Happy Infrastructure Week
By Bruce Husselbee
May 13-20 is National Infrastructure Week. As your local wastewater agency, HRSD is responsible for conveying and treating about 150 million gallons of wastewater from 18 communities in Southeastern Virginia every day. This effort is highly dependent on infrastructure, although much of it is out of sight.
In fact, wastewater infrastructure often goes unnoticed because most of it is located underground. The wastewater we send down our sinks, tubs and toilets disappears without much effort on our part, so it’s easy to overlook the intricate infrastructure needed to get the job done. HRSD operates and maintain more than 500 miles of pipes below the surface that carry wastewater away from homes and businesses to the 16 wastewater treatment plants we operate in the region. HRSD uses the fees paid by local ratepayers to make major investments in the collection and treatment of sewer infrastructure in our region.
Over the next 10 years, HRSD will invest $2.5 billion to replace aging pipelines, increase the capacity of numerous sewer pump stations and improve the reliability of wastewater treatment plants from Virginia Beach to Surry. In addition to these improvements, HRSD has the ambitious goal of recycling highly treated water to replenish the local groundwater aquifer through SWIFT, an innovative water treatment project. Similar programs have been successful in California, Texas and Florida. The beneficial reuse of this water will increase local aquifer levels and assure that future generations will be able to benefit from the abundance of water we often take for granted. Beneficial reuse of solids for fertilizer, methane for energy production and reclaimed water for industrial purposes are all efforts under way at HRSD. These efforts reduce our carbon footprint and create a more sustainable future for all of us.
Infrastructure projects require qualified engineers, scientists, contractors, vendors and a long list of committed individuals to make ideas a reality. According to the Business Roundtable, every $1 invested in infrastructure generates $3.70 in economic growth, while repairing and modernizing our nation’s public infrastructure would add $1,400 in income to the average household annually for the next 20 years. Investing in our infrastructure is in many ways like making a commitment to ourselves. The infrastructure we build or replace improves the lives of local citizens, provides job opportunities, and acts as a catalyst to purchase equipment, materials and services here in Hampton Roads.
We often hear complaints about the rising costs of taxes, fees, tolls and utility bills. For many years, the federal government paid for a significant part of the water systems and roadway systems through grants, loans and other subsidies. As the federal government has limited its contributions to state and local infrastructure, this burden has been passed on to local ratepayers. Just as the regional gas tax has finally allowed many critical roadway, bridge and tunnel projects to move forward, rate increases for water, sewer and stormwater will also improve the quality of life and the environment in our region.
Paying for a college education, receiving formal training at a vocational school or even joining a gym are all investments we might make in ourselves to improve the quality of our individual wellbeing. By pooling the funds from the region, HRSD and other public sector organizations make meaningful improvements to the wellbeing of the region. HRSD’s vision that future generations will inherit clean waterways and be able to keep them clean is an ambitious goal, and investment in infrastructure is an important part of this effort.
Bruce W. Husselbee is director of engineering for Hampton Roads Sanitation District. Contact him at 460-2261.