Part of Nansemond River closed to shellfish harvesting

Published 6:21 pm Friday, September 25, 2020

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The Virginia Department of Health has closed part of the Nansemond River for shellfish harvesting due to a raw sewage spill that has impacted water quality in the area.

Portions of the York River, Back Creek, the Poquoson River and the Chesapeake Bay have also been closed temporarily.

The state health department said that due to potential microbiological pollution hazards, shellfish taken from areas affected by the emergency closure is currently not acceptable to eat. The affected shellfish include bivalve mollusks, including oysters and clams, but not crabs or fin fish.

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Ingesting shellfish taken from closed areas at this time could cause gastrointestinal illnesses, including Norovirus, Hepatitis A and Shigellosis, according to the state health department.

The temporary emergency closure took effect Sept. 18 on all but the affected parts of the Nansemond River, where it took effect the following day. The affected locations are scheduled to reopen Oct. 9, though the state health department said its Division of Shellfish Safety will monitor the shellfish and water quality during this period to determine if they can be reopened sooner.

A sewer pump station on Saunders Drive overflowed into Shingle Creek as the result of significant rainfall and elevated water levels, according to the Hampton Roads Sanitation District. That pump station moves wastewater flow from a portion of downtown Suffolk to the Nansemond Treatment Plant in North Suffolk.

It was one of several HRSD pump stations to experience sanitary sewer overflows resulting from the large amounts of rain and the higher water levels in area waterways that came about with the remnants of Hurricane Sally that moved through southeastern Virginia.

Rain totals in the city ranged from 4 to 10 inches, swells from the offshore Hurricane Teddy also increased tidal water levels.

HRSD said crews working at the Suffolk Pump Station were able to stop the overflow into Shingle Creek by late afternoon Sept. 18.

High pressures due to higher flows entering the system locked out the station’s pumps, and the standby pump onsite failed, which resulted in a 2.5 million gallon wastewater spill. The Suffolk pump station and gravity sewer were built in the 1970s and were scheduled to be replaced. HRSD said the project is in the design phase and tentatively scheduled to begin construction early next year.

In a statement from the Nansemond River Preservation Alliance, it noted that the pump station would be replaced with two pumps at new locations to allow for the elimination of some of the existing gravity sewer pipe in Shingle Creek. The sanitation district is regularly sampling to determine when bacteria levels return to pre-spill levels.

The sanitation district said it is working closely with the state department of health’s Division of Shellfish Safety to coordinate the monitoring of impacted sights, including Shingle Creek and the Nansemond River in Suffolk, and Back Creek in York County.

Residents are advised to avoid contact and use of Shingle Creek and Back Creek in Seaford until further notice.