2020 United for Infrastructure

Published 6:14 pm Friday, September 18, 2020

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To the editor:

The region’s public infrastructure is critical to our quality of life, our safety and our economic vitality. Infrastructure assets include roads, bridges, rail, air and transit systems, our ports and the extensive systems of utilities serving our communities. Sept. 14-19 is National Infrastructure Week, and this year’s theme is “United for Infrastructure.” For some, it is easy to take infrastructure for granted since many of these assets have been in place for a long time and in some cases, are not even visible to the public. But when these critical systems fail or do not perform as intended, our day-to-day activities and way of life can suffer. For example, it is estimated that there are 850 water main breaks each day in North America.

HRSD (Hampton Roads Sanitation District) was formed in the 1940s to address water quality concerns in Hampton Roads. As the regional wastewater agency, HRSD is responsible for collecting and treating about 150 million gallons of wastewater each day from 18 communities in Southeastern Virginia. HRSD takes a regional perspective to address these wastewater challenges, operating more than 500 miles of buried pipe, more than 100 pump stations and 16 wastewater treatment plants. This infrastructure is financed with fees paid by local ratepayers, allowing significant economies of scale as the costs to maintain the wastewater system are shared by all. The link between wastewater treatment and water quality in the lower Chesapeake Bay and tributaries is an important and vital connection. A healthy Bay is directly tied to regional economic drivers like tourism and commercial and recreational fishing, along with many other sports and leisure activities.

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HRSD’s vision of “ensuring future generations will inherit clean waterways and be able to keep them clean,” requires more than improving water quality in our waterways. Fresh water sources need to be available for our future generations — This is where SWIFT comes in. The Sustainable Water Initiative For Tomorrow will ultimately treat up to 100 million gallons of wastewater per day, bringing it to a quality suitable for drinking. This SWIFT water will be repurposed to restore groundwater levels located beneath our very feet. The underground region that holds groundwater, also known as an aquifer, is a very limited and precious resource in Hampton Roads.

To accomplish this, SWIFT will require a large infrastructure investment. During the next 10 to 12 years, more than $1 billion will be invested in the region to design and construct the needed pipelines, state-of-the-art treatment plant improvements and groundwater recharge wells. This effort will require talented engineers, contactors, vendors and suppliers. According to the Business Roundtable, every $1 invested in infrastructure generates $3.70 in economic growth. This investment in infrastructure will result in numerous high-paying jobs for many of our local citizens. Beyond economic growth, this wise use of the region’s funds will provide other benefits to our region: it helps address Chesapeake Bay restoration, it will increase pressures in the natural freshwater aquifer to limit saltwater from further entering the groundwater and, hopefully, prevent further settlement of the land. HRSD stands “United for Infrastructure,” and will continue to address some of the most pressing water quality challenges facing our region using wise investments to the region’s infrastructure.


Bruce Husselbee

Director of Engineering, Hampton Roads Sanitation District