The U.S. Department of Agriculture and other state organizations will help fund the upgrade of the sewage treatment system, with construction scheduled to start in May.

By Hannah Denham

CHA Consulting Inc. started the bidding process Thursday for a $3.7 million project to update Glasgow’s 1970s-era sewage system.  

“It’s going to be an inconvenience to our citizens, but it’s going to be a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” Glasgow Town Manager Bill Rolfe said.  

Water and sewage pipes are older and getting older, and for many small towns like Glasgow, there isn’t enough federal or local funding to keep up. The American Society of Civil Engineers reported in 2016 that treatment plants across the country have access to about $45 billion in funding but will need $105 billion more in investment through 2025.  

In 2016, Glasgow received a $2.7 million rural development grant and a 40-year, $950,000 low-interest loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help update its pipes.  

Glasgow has not updated its sewage system since the 1970s. (Photo by Hannah Denham)

Glasgow’s current water system produces about 100,000 gallons of water per day for homes and businesses, Rolfe said. Water flows into homes through toilets, residents flush and it returns to the sewage treatment plant located at 700 Ninth St.  

Water and Wastewater Treatment Plant Operator Jeff Rankin said the amount of water processed and returned to the plant should be roughly the same.  

For a small town like this, you should be able to see some kind of correlation,” he said. “If you got those leaks going on, water is just naturally going to flow in.” 

When it rains, the aging pipes can’t handle the 1.6 million gallons of water that gush through to the treatment plant because it’s almost four times the normal capacity, Rankin said. 

The excess water dilutes the sewage, which flows into the James River and feeds into the Chesapeake Bay. It then costs extra to retreat the sewage, which Rankin said is a problem for Glasgow’s water and wastewater department because it doesn’t generate revenue and consistently lacks funding.  

Rankin said rainwater and groundwater seeping into the pipes can bring along other chemicals with it, and without the capacity to properly treat it, this poses a bigger environmental issue. 

“We feel like this is our part in helping clean up the Chesapeake Bay and the James River,” Rolfe said. “We depend on the James River for a lot of recreational activity in this town.” 

Rankin said part of the USDA grant will be put toward equipment, including a vacuum truck that will suck up debris and roots from pipes. But most of the grant will be used to cover construction costs. 

Once construction begins, the project will be divided into four phases with up to four contractors. Rolfe said construction will take about 18 months to complete. 

“We’re not going to dig this town up,” he said. “We’re taking every step we possibly can to minimize the impact.” 

Glasgow has two major water sources, shown here as yellow circles, and 529 water connections. (Photo by Hannah Denham)

Rankin said there are 529 water connections that will require camera inspection and analysis to determine if the need to be fixed. Construction will include adding pipe segment and two or three more manholes. It also will involve waterproofing and repairing the lining of existing manholes and pipes, along with some digging and replacement of others. 

“The easy way is to dig and replace, but that’s not the most economic option for our town,” he said.  

For residents, this means they may have generators and hoses in their yards for several days before the construction is finished. Rolfe said contractors will work on lines leading all the way up to houses but won’t go inside. 

“Coordination-wise, it’s going to be a very tedious process because we are going to basically have to close off a section of the sewer lines frommanhole to manhole and say to the people next to it to not flush,” Rolfe said.  

Rankin said the federal grant can’t go toward construction on private property, so the town will also be using a $40,000 loan from Southeast Rural Community Assistance Project to help cover those costs.  

CHA Project Engineer Kaitlin Van Dyke said the plan will prioritize fixing lines in the worst condition near about 20 homes within the areas surrounding the two wells to prevent potential contamination of the main water sources for the town.  

“The town is going to get approval from property owners ahead of time,” Van Dyke said. 

Rankin said officials won’t know which homes will be affected until after camera inspections of the two wells. The Virginia Health Department will fund this part of the project with a $34,000 grant. 

 Van Dyke said in Thursday’s pre-bid meeting that if contractors hit the water lines during sewage construction, they will have to fix the whole line. 

Rankin said taking pictures of the inside of the pipes is a step toward digitizing infrastructure records for the future. He said his goal is to have pictures, maps and analysis – records to help identify problems before there are leaks.  

“You fix it now, it doesn’t mean it’s going to last forever,” he said. “Water and wastewater changes a lot. You’ve got to be flexible.” 

Van Dyke said the bids are due on March 1, and construction is scheduled to begin in May. 

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