Thursday, December 17, 2009

Natural Gas Smells Like Rotten Eggs

Do you know you can use your nose to recognize a natural gas leak? It smells like rotten eggs. Natural gas smells bad for a really good reason: your safety. If you ever smell the rotten egg smell of a natural gas leak, leave the area immediately, go to a safe location and call 911. Knowing the rotten egg smell of natural gas can save your life.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Keep Life Simple with Natural Gas!

City of Richmond Natural Gas, we're keeping life simple. The energy to reach the future. Keeping life simple is what we do because that's our motto and our creed. It's a natural fact when you use gas, it's environmentally friendly. City of Richmond Natural Gas, we're keeping life simple.

Monday, November 23, 2009

An Animated Movie about Richmond's Combined Sewer Overflow System

The average household has many sources of sewer water. This water may come from the use of sinks, showers, and bathrooms. Water from these sources go down into the sewer pipes of your home into the ground.

To many, what lies under the foundation of the average home is a mystery. One of the challenges with living in an historic city is the amount of underground obstructions. Examples may be cobblestone left over from a bygone era when Richmonders and visitors traveled by horse and buggy, trash and debris, abandoned utility lines, rail remnants from Richmond's streetcar era, even old Civil War artifacts.

Modern water lines and other utilities such as cable television, telephone, and natural gas can also serve as blockages.

Root systems are underground obstructions that can cause infrastructure damage to sewer and storm drain lines.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Solar Lights at Ancarrow's Landing

The Department of Public Utilities will be maintaining the solar lights installed at Ancarrow's Landing and soon-to-be-installed lights in the Randolph community behind the Randolph Community Center.

All About Biosolids

Biosolids, also known as treated sludge, is the byproduct of domestic and commercial sewage and wastewater treatment. Properly treated biosolids can be used as fertilizer. The term biosolids was created in 1991 by the Water Environment Foundation to differentiate raw, untreated sewage sludge from treated and tested sludge that can be beneficially used as fertilizer.

In Richmond, the sewage goes through physical, chemical and biological processes that clean the wastewater and removes solids. Richmond treats about 45 million gallons of wastewater a day and discharges the clean, treated water into the James River.

The City's wastewater treatment plant recycles its biosolids to farms in close proximity to Richmond, which is currently 43 farms in nine surrounding counties, including Amelia, Buckingham, Caroline, Charles City, Charlotte, Cumberland, Hanover, King William, and Powhatan.

To learn more about Richmond's biosolids, visit Nutri Blend and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Going Green Means Saving on Gas

The SunTrust Center building at 919 E. Main Street went green, replacing its boilers with a tankless hot water and heating system. The system will reduce natural gas consumption by 30 percent, paying for itself in less than six years.

This combination system heats water on demand and heats the air at the same time.

To aid with stormwater management, the building also has an 11,000-square-foot green roof to reduce runoff and improve insulation.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Take Precautions Around Gas Meters

As the owner or occupant of a building supplied with natural gas, you have a responsibility to ensure the gas meter, regulator and associated piping are protected from damage. You are responsible for the maintenance of any piping from the gas meter to your gas appliances.

Take care around gas piping when using your lawn mower, brush cutter or digging in garden beds.

Do not scratch or damage the protective coating on the meter and piping.

Do not hang things from the gas piping.

Do not chain a pet, bicycle, gas grill or anything else to the gas meter or piping.

Do not anchor laundry lines or plant supports to the gas meter or piping.

Maintain a safe clearance between your gas, charcoal or propane grill and the gas meter.

Maintain a 2-foot clearance to allow access to the meter and meter shut-off valve. Maintain at least a 3-foot clearance around commercial meters.

Do not disconnect, move or disturb the gas meter.

Do not change or alter the service connection in any manner.

Call Miss Utility at 811 at least three full business days before digging in your yard. This will allow time for the utility lines buried in the area to be marked. The call and markout service are free.

Questions? Call 646-8300.

Posted by Mariane Jorgenson

What do those colors mean?

You may have seen little flags in the ground, or painted markings on the ground and wondered what they mean. They mark underground utilities. Here's a guide:

RED - Electric power lines, cables, conduit and lighting cables.
YELLOW. (Yellow )- Gas, oil, steam, petroleum or gaseous materials
ORANGE - Communications, alarm or signal lines, cables or conduits.
BLUE - Potable water.
PURPLE - Reclaimed water, irrigation and slurry lines.
GREEN - Sewer and drain lines.
PINK - Temporary survey markings.
WHITE - Proposed excavation.

Green markings on a storm drain also mean it has been treated for mosquitoes.

From the Virginia State Corporation Commission, Division of Utility and Railroad Safety, July 2007

Friday, September 18, 2009

What Are Stormwater Infrastructures?

Q. Can you tell me if the underground infrastructure to handle stormwater runoff and the underground sewer infrastructure are the same? Can you elaborate on some of the physical differences in these two infrastructures?
-- Trent from Park Avenue

A. The City of Richmond has three types of sewer systems that comprise our infrastructure. They are:

Stormwater-only sewer mains (pictured)
Combination (both sanitary and stormwater) sewer mains
Sanitary-only sewer mains

The stormwater-only system flow is not treated at the Wastewater Treatment Plant. Stormwater sewer mains empty at locations throughout the city into creeks and the river. The combined and sanitary-only systems flow to the treatment plant where the wastewater is treated.

While some of the stormwater that runs over land enters a storm sewer system or a combined sewer system through curb inlets, drain grates, etc., some stormwater runoff obviously enters bodies of water such as lakes, creeks, and the river.

Price of Gas to Go Down 11 Percent in October

The City of Richmond is lowering the price of natural gas, effective on the October utility bills.

The average residential customer who uses 70 Ccf (a Ccf is 100 cubic feet of natural gas) per month will pay approximately $91.75 compared to the current bill of $102.95, an 11 percent reduction in the total gas bill.

The City passes along the cost of the natural gas it purchases to its customers, dollar for dollar, without markup. DPU analysts periodically review and adjust rates based on market and weather conditions.

DPU offers information and programs year-round to encourage customers to better manage their utility bills and seek assistance before bills become unmanageable. DPU also encourages customers to consider enrolling in the Equal Monthly Payment Plan (EMPP) in order to avoid large seasonal fluctuations in their monthly bill. More information about EMPP and other programs is available by calling 644-3000 or visit DPU's website.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Tubercle- Free Fan: Mission Accomplished!

Do you know what tubercles are and what they do to your water supply?

Tubercles form inside water mains as a result of corrosion. They consist of layers of rust, building up over time to form lumps and mounds inside the pipe. Tubercles can severely reduce the full flow of water through a pipe. If your water pressure is low or your water is cloudy, it could be caused by tubercles.

In 1983, the City of Richmond Department of Public Utilities created a rehabilitation program for the city’s water pipe system. This Cleaning and Lining Program was designed to improve water quality at a lower cost than replacing existing water mains by drilling out and relining existing water mains with cement mortar.

Neighborhoods targeted for cleaning were the ones that had a high frequency of water pressure complaints, aging pipelines, cloudy water, and a history of water main breaks.

Cleaning and lining was done from spring to fall, so neighborhoods as large as the Fan took four to five years to complete, one section at a time. The project was completed in 2014.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Richmond Shares in Recovery Act Funds

Governor Timothy M. Kaine accepted a check Aug. 18 for more than $80 million from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. More than $6 million of the funds went to City of Richmond Department of Public Utilities for the combined sewer overflow separation project at Orleans and Nicholson streets, regulator outfall #12, and the peripheral inline flow EQ at Oakwood. The combined projects created or retained 51 jobs.

Since Richmond's drinking water comes down the James River from Lynchburg, Lynchburg's funding grant for help with eliminating sewage discharges from its combined sewer overflow system will benefit Richmond as well.

For more information on the Governor's "Renew Virginia" initiative to promote renewable energy, create green jobs, and encourage preservation of the environment visit

Pictured (Gov. Tim Kaine (left) and Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones (right) at Richmond's Wastewater Treatment Plant for the check presentation, Aug. 18, 2009.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Financing the Stormwater Utility

Utilities Comptroller Wayne Lassiter's presentation at Mary Munford Elementary School, July 28, 2009

Understanding Stormwater

Department of Public Utilities Deputy Director Bob Steidel was part of a presentation on the stormwater utility at Mary Munford Elementary School, July 28, 2009.

Recorded and posted by Mariane Jorgenson

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Green Alleys

The Department of Public Utilities implemented a Green Alley Demonstration Project at two locations, the alley connecting S. 12th and S. 13th streets, between Main and Cary, and the alley connecting 5th and Main streets, between Main and Cary.

The 12th street location is a doglegged alley with an impermeable surface that slopes toward Shockoe Bottom, an area that has experienced severe flooding in the past. The 5th Street alley is relatively flat, although covered with impermeable asphalt that results in a basin effect during even minor rainfall. By using permeable surfacing, rain gardens, cisterns, and other stormwater management techniques, these alleys were transformed into models for adopting green alley design as a standard, citywide practice.

Retrofitting alleys with green techniques has proven effective at solving stormwater runoff problems in urban areas such as Chicago. Alleys are often holding areas for garbage, construction materials and equipment, increasing the amount of pollution collected in stormwater runoff and carried to the James River and Chesapeake Bay.

This exciting project was the first application of green alley stormwater management in a city within the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The alleys were selected for their different physical characteristics and location in high profile areas susceptible to flooding.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

More Stormwater Questions Answered

Q. Was floating a bond for stormwater ever discussed?

A. Yes. The Department of Public Utilities has consistently maintained that our plan is to finance some of our capital projects in the Stormwater Utility with long-term municipal bonds. To position the utility for that, we need to build strength in our financial statements by showing that we have a consistent, predictable revenue stream and that our revenue exceeds our expenses by a reasonable amount. We will likely be in a position to do a debt issue in one to two years.

Q. Are the contractors from 15 years ago still responsible for the projects they've built that have not held up?

A. If the owner of a property -- individual or property owner association -- does not maintain a BMP (Best Management Practice) and the City had a signed maintenance agreement with the property owner, the City can place a lien on the property and maintain the BMP. Many BMPs are being maintained by the property owners (there are approximately 200 in the City, and 50 City BMPs). The City's Stormwater Utility will provide the resources to maintain City BMPs, as well as those abandoned by the property owners.

Posted by Mariane Jorgenson

Monday, July 13, 2009

More Answers to Stormwater Questions

Q. How was the fee determined?

A. The stormwater utility fee is based on the amount of impervious area that a property contains and is broken down into a three-tiered rate structure for single family residential parcels. This fee was determined by utilizing property classification data from the City Assessor's Office and impervious area calculations from the City's Geographic Information System GIS.

Q. Can the work be divided up over several years?

A. Yes, based on the amount of work needed under the stormwater utility, it will take several years to complete the work that has been identified. Among other things, the stormwater utility will fund operations and regular maintenance of catch basins, drainage ditches, detention ponds and the like, as well as Capital improvement projects to include storm sewer installation, culvert and ditch upgrades, steam restoration, water quality retrofits, and storm drainage master planning and engineering.

Q. Can stimulus funds be used instead of charging the citizens?

A. The stimulus fund dollars are all assigned to specific, already-designed projects that have been prioritized and approved by state agencies. The Department of Public Utilities cannot divert those funds to serve other projects that have not been accepted and approved. As with other vital utility services such as water, sewer or natural gas, the stormwater utility fee is a fee for the service of controlling stormwater runoff.

A. Why isn't this the homeowner's responsibility?

The stormwater utility is the most equitable system because all contributors share the costs of maintaining and improving the storm drainage system. The City of Richmond must meet stringest water regulatory standards by regional and national agencies. Meeting these standards would not be possible by leaving it in the hands of individual homeowners, and if these requirements are not met, the City would incur exorbititant fines that pale in comparison to the amount charged under the stormwater utility fee.

Q. Why is the fee determined by the size of the roof?

The size of the roof, along with other impervious surfaces, is calculated as part of a single family resident's impervious area because water cannot soak through a roof, but runs off it.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Stormwater Answers to Blogger Questions

The following questions were received in the comments sections, were raised on neighborhood blogs, or are often asked at recent Council district information meetings. Here are the answers:

Q. How much did the City spend to determine the amount of impervious square feet on every parcel?

A. The GIS mapping technology utilized to perform the calculations was and is also in use within the Departments of Community Development and Public Works. As a result, DPU was able to utilize the same technology already in place and incurred only the cost for the processing and clean-up of the building and transportation GIS layers from DPW and DCD. That cost was approximately $20,000.

Q. Where are the incentives for conservation for homeowners?

At this time the City is unable to offer credits for homeowners who utilize methods to capture and use stormwater runoff. This is based on the way the City charter is written. The City does have plans to introduce legislation to the General Assembly whereby residents may obtain credits for the implementation of various methods to capture stormwater runoff (i.e. rain barrels, rain gardens, pervious pavers, etc.)

Q. Why do multifamily units cost more?

Multifamily residential units cost more because the amount of impervious area of these structures (roofs, parking lots, sidewalks, etc.) is usually larger and therefore generates more stormwater runoff.

Q. Will VCU be required to pay the stormwater utility fee?

Yes. VCU will be required to pay the stormwater utility fee. However, because they are a non-residential property, they do have the ability to apply for a partial credit of up to 50 percent by implementing methods that would significantly reduce the quality and quantity of stormwater runoff from their property.

The only properties that are granted a full waiver of the stormwater utility fee are undeveloped properties, public streets and roadways, cemeteries and *City of Richmond owned properties.

*Note: Richmond Public Schools and properties owned by RRHA are NOT owned by the City of Richmond and therefore will be required to pay.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Natural Gas is Best on the Block

Department of Public Utilities Communications Manager Angela Fountain (below, right) presents a gas bill credit to Clark and Melanie Lambert of Northside. The couple won WWBT 12's Best on the Block backyard makeover, which included an outdoor kitchen and natural gas grill. Natural gas grills can be connected to a home's gas service, eliminating the need for propane tanks. Call 646-0177 today and find out how you can get a backyard makeover of your own with a natural gas outdoor kitchen.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Natural Gas Costs Less

Natural gas costs less to use this year than other major home energy sources, says the Department of Energy's (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Electricity will cost families roughly three times as much as natural gas.

The least expensive way to heat a home in 2009 is with a high-efficiency (94 percent) natural gas furnance, according to the American Gas Association's analysis of DOE cost projections.

For more information, read the press release.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Utility Talk wins public relations award

Utility Talk, the Department of Public Utilities’ quarterly customer newsletter, won Best in Show at the 2009 Virginia Public Relations Awards, June 3.

Best in Show is the entry with the highest judges’ score. Judges called it “very effective, creative, diverse, great use of graphics and layout, features short and to the point, timely and easy to read. This offers just enough information that a customer would most likely read all of the content!” One judge commented that she learned about mercaptan, the additive added to natural gas that gives it its distinctive smell.

Utility Talk also received a Bronze Medallion in the newsletter category. Utility Talk, which began in 1993, was produced in house for the first time last year by the DPU communications division and is distributed in the utility bills to 124,000 customers in the city and Henrico County and is available online. Bronze categories are for tactical elements of public relations strategies.

Utility Talk has been written and designed by Mariane Jorgenson since 2008.

Monday, June 1, 2009

DPU Employees Accept SCC Conference Awards

The City of Richmond received two awards at the recent State Corporation Commission’s Damage Prevention Conference.

Al Scott, an administrative project analyst, accepted a Certificate of Appreciation for supporting Virginia’s 2008 Underground Utility Damage Prevention Education and Awareness Campaign.

Operations Manager Carl James received an individual award for his assistance in the recent extrication of a man from a collapsed trench. James responded to the call and coordinated the efforts of a Henkels & McCoy vacuum truck crew to help free the man.

Posted by Mariane Jorgenson

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

MetroCare Golf Classic 2009 Slideshow

The annual tournament raises funds for the Department of Public Utilities' heating assistance program. For copies of photos, contact Mariane Jorgenson

Monday, May 4, 2009

Avoid Mosquito Bites to Prevent West Nile Virus

Each summer season brings with it the risk of West Nile Virus, which is transmitted to humans from the bite of infected mosquitoes. Reducing the number of mosquitoes by eliminating their breeding sites is an effective prevention measure.

Mosquitoes breed in stagnant water, so city residents should eliminate places where they breed around the home by emptying water from objects in their yards and other places where stagnant water accumulates. Check them at least once a week, if not daily.

Other precautions to reduce the chances of being bitten include:

  • Wearing light-colored, long-sleeved shirts and long pants
  • Staying indoors when mosquitoes are most active in the early morning and dusk
  • Properly applying insect repellant that contains no more than 40 percent DEET for adults and less than 30 percent for children. Don't use DEET repellant on infants.
The Department of Public Utilities' stormwater teams will be out cleaning storm drains and other areas where mosquitoes can breed. If you see standing water on public property, call 644-3000.

For more information, visit the Virginia Department of Health.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

City receives stimulus funds for sewer projects

The City of Richmond's Department of Public Utilities requested funding for five projects which would help finance a new stormwater system to reduce sewage flow into the river. The State Water Control Board announced this week that, under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, three of Richmond's projects would be nearly fully funded.

The projects are:
  • A sanitary sewer will be installed on Orleans Street, east of the railroad bridge to Williamsburg Road at a cost of $979,000, separating Orleans from Nicholson Street's sewer line.

  • An on line storage facility and a solids and floatable control regulator will be constructed at the Oakwood Project to allow combined sewage in excess of capacity to be captured and stored and then conveyed to the wastewater treatment plant after a storm subsides. The project includes rehabilitation of approximately 4,000 linear feet of existing interceptor sewer and was funded at $3,551,000.

  • A solids and floatable control regulator will be constructed at an existing combined sewer overflow outfall pipe to improve the aesthetic quality of the discharge into Almond Creek, funded at $1,678,000.

Projects were selected based on anticipated environmental benefits, how soon they could be started, and the financial hardship of the locality and its unemployment rate.

In addition, Richmond water customers will benefit from Lynchburg's award of $25 million for five projects to modernize its sewers in an effort to eliminate raw sewage overflows into the James River. Richmond's drinking water is taken out of the river after it is used, treated and returned by the city of Lynchburg and other localities west.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Cleaning Pipes from Downtown to the Fan

Richmond has one of the first modern water distribution systems in America, and hundreds of miles of those original mains are still in service. With pipes and infrastructure dating back to the early 1800s, clogging and corrosion is a real probability.

About half of the city’s 1,100 miles of water mains were installed prior to 1945 and are made of cast or ductile iron. Back then, utility planners didn’t know iron is far more susceptible to mineral deposits, called tubercules. Gradual buildup of rust, calcium and other materials can have a negative effect on water color, quality, pressure, main capacity, presence of bacteria and fire protection.

In 1983, Richmond began an aggressive cleaning and lining program. Tubercules and solid accumulations were cleaned out and the pipes lined with cement mortar, which prevents additional corrosion. The result is less expensive than completely replacing existing pipe and improves water quality and flow.

Friday, April 3, 2009

How to Build Your Own Rain Barrel

What you need:

• A Clean 50-gallon barrel
• A ¾” faucet measuring 1” on outside. They are easy to open, and you can see from a distance if water is flowing or if the faucet is closed.
• 2 Washers and 1 lock nut for the faucet
• Caulk (clear plumber’s)
• Screening (Nylon fabric-like netting is better than the metal type)
• Metal Hardware Cloth
• Hose adapter for your overflow
• Washer and lock nut needed for the adapter.
• Hosing (short piece) to connect one barrel to another or to direct your overflow to a nearby garden. Hose clamps as needed.
• Bricks or cinderblocks to raise your barrel above the ground (this will improve water pressure)

What to do:

1. Drill hole near bottom of barrel
2. Caulk around outside of hole
3. Screw faucet in (use washer)
4. Caulk inside, then put on lock nut with washer (use pliers)
5. Drill a hole near top for overflow
6. Put in a hose adapter for overflow. Use washers. Use pliers to tighten.
7. Cut out center of lid (or drill several 1 to 2 inch diameter holes into lid)
8. Cut screen and hardward cloth (metal mesh) larger than lid and put in place on top of barrel.
9. Level the dirt under the rain barrel, then add some sand
10. Rain barrels need to be higher than ground level—use bricks or cinder blocks
11. Measure and cut off part of downspout
12. Put the barrel in place
13. Connect the overflow from one barrel to the next, or have overflow hose divert excess rain to a garden or distant area of your choice, away from your home’s foundation.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Big Impact from Low Impact Development

"I paid a lot for it, but it's worth it." That's a statement the average American can relate to. As a consuming culture we often equate cost with quality: the more it costs, the better the product. Sometimes that's true, but not when it comes to your involvement in the efforts to improve the City of Richmond's stormwater system.

There are many ways you can be a part of the City's efforts, but there's one thing you can do that will have a major impact on the environment and still keep money in your pocket.

Low Impact Development (LID) is a highly effective and attractive approach to controlling stormwater pollution and protecting developing watersheds and already urbanized communities. LID works by offering a wide variety of structural and nonstructural techniques to reduce runoff speed and volume, and improve runoff quality.

This procedure is aesthetically pleasing in comparison to a traditional structural stormwater conveyance system. Its aesthetic appeal allows versatility and the opportunity to experiment with its various styles without emptying your pockets.

Friday, March 27, 2009

VWEA Operations Challenge Laboratory Event

Every year, members of the Virginia Water Environment Association get together to compete in a series of operational challenges including a laboratory drill, pump maintenance, safety, and collections systems events. This year the event was held at Richmond's wastewater treatment plant. Here's a few moments from the laboratory event as the Washington DC team sets up.