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Natural Awakenings Richmond

Sustainable Infrastructure for Cleaner Water

Oct 29, 2021 04:22PM ● By Regina Rudolph

Infrastructure is a key word right now in Congress, and is at the center of bipartisan deals and budget negotiations for good reason. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gives America’s infrastructure a grade of C-, or mediocre, and in need of attention. Dig deeper and we find more troubling news: Funding for the nation’s water infrastructure is not keeping pace with our aging systems, putting our health and the health of our waterways at risk.

When properly funded and maintained, the network of pipelines and treatment facilities that make up our water infrastructure reliably delivers drinking water to our homes, safely removes wastewater to be cleaned and returned to our waterways and manages stormwater to reduce flooding and polluted runoff. But when these systems fail, it can have disruptive and potentially harmful impacts on our communities.

This year in the Greater Richmond Region, we’ve seen a catastrophic failure at the drinking water plant in Hopewell that prompted a “boil water” advisory as well as a 300,000-gallon sewage spill in Goochland County that shut down a portion of the James River for a week. In addition, summer storms caused multiple overflow events from Richmond’s combined sewer system that sent polluted runoff and untreated sewage into the river. One such storm dumped nearly three inches of rain in one hour, causing flash flooding that gushed over the jersey walls on I-95 and put Grace Street under a foot of water. Our infrastructure is under stress, and climate change promises to make it worse.

Virginia made significant investments in sustainable water infrastructure during 2021. The state budget included $100 million for upgrades at wastewater facilities and $25 million for local stormwater projects. In August, the general assembly used federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding to invest another $411 million in clean water, with $125 million for addressing the combined sewer systems in Richmond, Alexandria and Lynchburg, $100 million for safe and equitable drinking water access and $11.5 million to help low-income households repair or replace failing septic systems.

Cities and counties throughout the Commonwealth have the opportunity to use their ARPA allocations for sustainable water projects, too. Richmond used a public survey to learn how residents wanted the city’s federal funding to be spent, and the responses made it clear that projects supporting a cleaner, greener, more resilient city should be a priority.

The James River Association is calling on localities throughout the watershed to include sustainable water infrastructure projects in their spending plans. Residents can help by sharing this message with local officials. With historic levels of federal infrastructure funding available and more potentially on the way, let’s make sure that our state and local leaders are making clean water a priority.

To sign up for information about clean water funding and stay updated with opportunities to contact officials and advocate for our waterways, join the JRA Action Network at

Anna Killius is the government affairs and policy manager for the James River Association.

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