Wastewater treatment is one of those services that most folks only think about when something goes wrong. In Elkton, Va., the quaint brick manholes of this scenic Shenandoah Valley community were covering a simmering issue with the sewer lines below.
The treatment plant was undersized for the existing population and running at 95 percent capacity with customers experiencing blockages as pipes failed. Inflow and infiltration from terra cotta pipes turned the system into an energy hog by increasing the amount of water to be treated. Higher rainy-day releases of nitrogen and phosphate also discharged into the Shenandoah River, further contributing to the impairment of the waterway.
Public Works Director Gaither (Gator) Hurt says the “stars aligned” in 2019 when the town received $2.4 million more than the original $1.3 million originally awarded from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to upgrade the plant. The state funding combined with $15,625,000 in loans and a maximum 75 percent ($7,681,000) Water and Waste Disposal Grant from USDA Rural Development enabled the planning team to expand the scope to include more sewer lines.
Town Manager Greg Lunsford had been on the job for two months when they initiated the bid process. He and Hurt worked closely with Lead Wastewater Operator Lelan Siler and RD Community Programs Specialist Cyndy Leonard to bring the expansion project over the finish line. Leonard lauds the team effort as a perfect trifecta of excellent owner, engineer and contractor.
“We have a modern plant for the first time since 1980 thanks to USDA,” says Hurt. “I don’t know where we’d be without them. She backed up everything she said she would do and that’s something to be proud of.”
The new system will help the town keep costs down with fewer repairs and a smaller volume of water to treat. It will also free up public works staff to focus on beautification projects for a town that is well positioned for growth. Lunsford says expansion is inevitable with surrounding economic development but knows that “we need to be careful of how we grow.” Infrastructure upgrades like this one provide a great foundation.
Photo above: USDA RD Community Programs Specialist Cyndy Leonard confers with Elkton Public Works Director Gator Hurt (left) and Town Manager Greg Lunsford at the project site. The group is standing on an influent pump station, which collects all of the incoming waste to be pumped into the treatment facility.