Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Customer Photos

Donna Knicely and Bill Jordan shared this photo of their gas log fireplace. "Santa came to our house and left his hat under our tree, right next to our wonderful gas logs. The gingersnaps that were baked in our gas oven were long gone by the time we got up on Christmas morning."

Monday, December 12, 2011

City hosts watershed project in Bellemeade

A Community Open House was held Dec. 13 to share ideas for improving the creek and neighborhood walking routes in the Bellemeade neighborhood. The Green Infrastructure Center has partnered with the City of Richmond, Richmond Public Schools and local community leaders to develop a concept plan for improving the creek and walking routes in the Bellemeade neighborhood.

“This pilot project aims to integrate the schoolshed and watershed, by identifying strategies that improve the creek, but also provide amenities for the students and residents living in the neighborhood,” said Karen Firehock, Director of the Green Infrastructure Center.

The project builds off of the growing momentum around the new sustainably designed Oak Grove Bellemeade Elementary School expected to open in early 2013. During a day-long working session held Oct. 27, city and school representatives, community leaders and students of the future school, identified priority walking routes to the new school, along with strategies to improve the health of the creek that could benefit the neighborhood residents.

Jannie Laursen, principal of the new Oak Grove-Bellemeade Elementary School say, “We envision that the new school will embrace the adjacent creek as a tremendous learning opportunity for the students, and we hope to see the school become a real center for the Bellemeade neighborhood.”

The highlight of the event was a presentation from local 5th graders who shared their ideas about what was needed for the creek and their neighborhood.

The outcome of the project will be a watershed concept plan that will include specific actions to enhance the creek and neighborhood health.

“This process supports our parallel stormwater master planning process,” said Michelle Virts, DPU's Stormwater Utility deputy director. “We anticipate that this community-based concept plan will help us prioritize capital projects to reduce flooding and improve the creek in the neighborhood.” 

For more information, contact James (JJ) Minor at (804) 646-0587.

Reduction in City's Purchased Gas Cost

The city announced Dec. 9 a nearly 8 percent decrease in the PGC (purchased gas cost) paid by the city’s natural gas customers. Effective with bills issued in January 2012, the PGC will decrease from $.650 to $.600 per Ccf (100 cubic feet of natural gas).

For example, the average customer who uses 70 Ccf per month will pay approximately $84.64 compared to a current price of $88.14. This is the second reduction this year and the fifth reduction over the last two years in the natural gas commodity.

The city of Richmond passes along the cost of the natural gas it purchases to its customers, dollar for dollar, without any markup. Customers will see an overall 4 percent decrease in their total bill.

City of Richmond natural gas bill components include the PGC cost, the customer charge and the distribution charge. City analysts periodically review and adjust rates up or down based on market and weather conditions.

The city offers free information and programs year-round to help customers manage their utility bills and seek assistance before bills become unmanageable. The city encourages customers to enroll in the Equal Monthly Payment Plan (EMPP), a program designed to spread payments out evenly each month or to apply for the MetroCare program, a heating bill payment assistance program for those who qualify. More information about these programs is available by calling 646-7000 or visiting DPU’s website.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Senior Weatherization Day Give-Away

Wastewater Plant Biosolids Internal Audit Report

The Wastewater Treatment Facility operates along the south bank of the James River and serves customers in Richmond, Henrico, Chesterfield and Goochland. It operates and maintain 1,500 miles of sanitary sewer, pumping stations, 38 miles of intercepting sewer lines, the Shockoe Retention Basin and McCloy Tunnel, and operates the combined sewer overflow control program. The facility has a pretreatment, laboratory, technical services, engineering, and financial/administration section. Based on audit results, the committee feels the city's wastewater treatment plant is in conformance with its Biosolids Management Policy, program requirements, program goals and objectives.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Customer Photos

Lisa and Woody Womack have a natural gas heater in their attached garage, a natural gas water heater, a vent-free natural gas fireplace, and they just upgraded to a natural gas cooktop during a kitchen remodeling.

 “These appliances allow us to have hot water, heat, and the ability to cook even when the power is out! We love our new cooktop because of how fast it heats up and cools down,”  says Mr. Womack.

The Department of Public Utilities would like to see photos of you using natural gas products to share with our readers.

Do you cook with natural gas, have a natural gas hot water heater or outdoor grill? Does your clothes dryer use natural gas? Send a digital photo (1-3 MB). If your photo is selected for the next Utility Talk, you’ll win a $25 credit on your gas bill!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Report Damaged Streetlights

The city's Streetlight Operations storm recovery efforts are 99.5 percent complete as of Friday, Sept. 9. We are now in the next phase of restoration of secondary circuits and damaged lights. The general response time of seven days has been curtailed because of the storm recovery effort.

Help us locate any remaining downed or non-operating streetlights. Email DPU customer service and place "Streetlight Out" in the subject line. Residents without access to email should call 646-7000 or 3-1-1 to report it. When reporting, please be as specific as possible in your directions. (Example: light on pole on right side of 123 E. Broad, or 3 lights in the alley behind 4567-4569 Monument Ave.)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Respect the Marks

Every digging project requires a call to 811. Calling 811 a few days prior to digging gives utility and cable companies time to mark and protect their lines.

Just call 8-1-1. A representative will take your address and the location on your property where you plan to dig. The affected utility companies will be notified and send a professional locator to the digging site to mark the approximate location of the underground lines. Sometimes, just by looking at maps, they'll be able to tell it is safe to dig and you'll receive an email telling you no marking is necessary and you can begin your project.

If lines are marked, you should respect the marks and dig carefully around them.

Have lines remarked for each separate project. A foot one way or another can make a difference.

Even if you have hired a contractor, make sure they called 8-1-1 before beginning your project. Ask them. Ask to see the all-clear email if no one has come out to mark lines.

There are more than 170,000 unintentional hits of underground lines annually across the country, and one out of every three of those incidents are the result of not calling 811. Hitting an underground utility line can cause serious injuries, disrupt service to entire neighborhoods, and potentially result in fines and repair costs to you.

Visit www.va811.com for more information

Monday, August 15, 2011

Stormwater Utility Participates in Chesapeake Bay Meeting

The city of Richmond Department of Public Utilities' (DPU) Stormwater team exhibited at the Chesapeake Bay Executive Meeting, July 11, at Maymont Nature Center. The governors from the states surrounding the bay were there, including Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, as well as representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency.

DPU gave away pet waste doggy bags, dog bones with a stormwater message attached, and information on polluted stormwater runoff, and explained how the city is taking a pro-active approach to educate the public about pet waste management and its stormwater programs.

News coming out of the meeting was that the Bay jurisdictions are generally on track to meet their pollution reduction goals. Restoring the Bay will come at significant cost, but those costs will be spread over 15 years.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Customer Photo!

Chris Price sent in this photo of cooking on a vintage gas stove. "Gas makes for the best, most consistent results!" says Chris.

New Utility Rates Announced for City of Richmond Residents

Effective July 1, 2011, customers of the City of Richmond Department of Public Utilities (DPU) will see changes in their utility rates. Rate increases in natural gas, water, wastewater as well as adjustments in water and wastewater connection fees were adopted by Richmond City Council on May 23, 2011. There were no rate changes in Stormwater Utility fees.

These rate changes will address increases in unfunded mandates from the state and federal government for infrastructure improvements especially for the Chesapeake Bay clean up, and increased costs for power and chemicals used in water treatment.

“DPU works hard to provide superior utility service and create exceptional value while keeping rates as affordable as possible," said DPU Director Bob Steidel. "Utility fee increases are proposed when necessary as a way to continue to improve the reliability of Richmond’s underground infrastructure, provide service maintenance levels for all five utilities and continue compliance with existing and new state and federal regulations for safe, clean water, as well as gas and street light products and services.”

The average monthly residential increases that customers will see beginning July 1, 2011, are approximately $1.30 for natural gas distribution, $0.65 for water, and $1.84 for wastewater. Water and wastewater connection fees for new development and redevelopment will increase by 20 percent. These fees have not changed since 2008 and are being collected to recover DPU’s costs for safe and compliant construction. This comes as a result of DPU experiencing higher costs in pavement repair, materials, and equipment in the four years since these costs were last compiled.

Rate information can be found on the Utility Rates web page.

DPU offers a number of programs and initiatives to help customers control or assist with their utility bills:

•Equal Monthly Payment Program - Stabilize your utility bill by spreading your monthly payments evenly over 12 months. For more information, call 646-7000 or 311.

•MetroCare Program - Beginning Dec. 15, residents in DPU's service territory may apply for funds through the City's MetroCare Program, which provides funds to families and individuals who are having trouble paying their primary heating bills due to a financial difficulty or other special hardship. For more information, call 646-7000 or 311.

•Stormwater Utility residential and commercial credits. For more information visit the Stormwater Utility page.

•Wastewater charges during non-winter months (March – November) are billed using the lower of actual water usage or average winter usage.

EPA Water Sense Program.

•Earth Aid helps households track their actual energy and water consumption on the internet and learn how to be more energy efficient. Households earn rewards points each month for saving energy and water and then they can redeem these points for discounts and offers at a variety of local Richmond businesses. Residents can find more information on the Sustainability page.

•The City's Social Services Department offers heating and cooling assistance. For more information or to discuss eligibility requirements, call 646-7046.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

City's Green Roof

Green Roof on the Effluent Filtration Building

The green roof on the top of the Effluent Filtration Building at the Wastewater Treatment Plant was installed in the fall of 2010. It cost $80,000 to install the plants on the 6,000 square foot roof.

The plants are sedum, alliums, and euphorbia, selected for their ability to withstand drought, wind and sun. They have shallow root structure, making them ideal for roof landscaping where a deep soil is not possible. The plants also provide many months of flowering blooms.

Green roofs reduce urban heat from roof top reflections, reduce stormwater run-off, absorb air pollution, protect the roof from UV ray degradation, provide a natural habitat for birds and small animals, reduce the heat load to the building in the summer and provide additional insulation in the winter.

The next goal is to install a green roof on the new Ultraviolet Disinfection Facility, a 2,000 square foot surface, for an estimated cost of $35,000. This project is scheduled for fall 2012. The project construction manager is Arcadis and engineers are Greeley and Hansen.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Plant More Plants and Help Mother Earth

The Chesapeake Bay Program's "Plant More Plants" encourages consumers to celebrate Mother Earth in addition to Mom by giving the gift of a tree, shrub or perennial in lieu of cut flowers. These gifts keep growing, beautify Mom's yard, improve stormwater absorption, and contribute to cleaner waterways. A list of bay-friendly plants can be found at www.plantmoreplants.com, a helpful resource for those living within the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

The canopies and root systems of plants and trees help filter stormwater runoff and minimize erosion, keeping our waterways cleaner. Flowering perennials native to the Chesapeake Bay watershed include wild bleeding heart, wild geranium, black-eyed susans, wild columbine, and mistflower. The Plant More Plants website has a comprehensive list of plants, trees and shrubs native to our area.

Natural landscaping and native plants reduce the the need for excessive yard maintenance and fertilizer use, conserves water and minimizes erosion and stormwater runoff. They grow well together and are adapted to local conditions such as weather and insects.

Select a grass that is well-adapted to our region. Cool season grasses such as bentgrass, Kentucky bluegrass, rough bluegrass, red fescue and perennial ryegrass are ideal for homes across Richmond.

Test your soil. You may need less fertilizer than you think. Less fertilizing means less phosphorus washed into storm drains. Homeowners can get an inexpensive and easy-to-use soil test kit by contacting their local Cooperative Extension agent.

Don't bag your clippings. It's less work and provides a natural source of nitrogen fertilizer, a double bonus! Spread them across your lawn away from the storm drain for optimum benefit. Use extra as compost.

If you must fertilize, late spring through summer is best for warm-season grasses. Fall is optimal for cool-season grass. Fertilizing at the proper time promotes root growth and results in a healthier, drought-resistant lawn. Use a phosphorus-free formula as most lawns have sufficient phosphorus for their needs. Check for "slow-release" fertilizers, which are less likely to wash off. Sweep and pick up excess fertilizer from the sidewalk, driveway, and other hard surfaces. Don't fertilize when rain is in the forecast or the ground is frozen.

Pick up after your pets. Nutrients in pet waste infiltrate stormwater runoff and make their way into creeks, rivers, and ultimately, the Chesapeake Bay. This nutrient loading threatens the aquatic ecosystem and poses a threat for potential fecal bacteria contamination.

Landscape plans for rain gardens are available on the Plant More Plants website. Rain gardens are shallow lawn depressions filled with plants that collect water draining from roofs and driveways. 

Monday, April 18, 2011

Keep Prescription Drugs Out of Our Water

Prescription drugs can contaminate ground water and rivers. Wastewater treatment plants are not designed to remove or process many compounds found in medications. When medicine is flushed down drains or put in landfills, the drugs are discharged into our surface and ground water.

Pharmaceutical contaminants can cause serious harm to fish and wildlife living near lakes and rivers. Humans can be exposed to these chemicals when they drink water drawn from a contaminated source or eat wild game or fish. The long-term human health risks from exposure to even small amounts of these chemicals is unknown.

Drug Take-Back Programs, which collect leftover prescription drugs, are the safest method for disposing of prescription drugs. Visit the Attorney General of Virginia's website for more information on upcoming take-back programs.

Home disposal has risks, but when it is done correctly, it is still a viable option.
1. Remove medication from the original container and crush the pills or add water to them to dissolve them. Then mix the medication with kitty litter or coffee grounds to make it unattractive to children or pets and unrecognizable to drug abusers who may go through your trash.
2. Place the mixture in a container with a lid or in a sealable baggie and place it in your trash.
3. When discarding original pill bottles, scratch out or remove any identification on the bottle or package.

DO NOT dispose of medications in the toilet or sink.

DO NOT give medicine to friends or family. A drug that works for you could be dangerous to someone else, and it is also potentially illegal to share medicine.

If you have teenaged children at home, keep your medications under lock and key as prescription drug abuse -- using stolen medications from home and the homes of friends for recreation -- is a leading contributor to teen drug abuse.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Meter Reading - It's All Done Electronically Now

Imagine driving by every single home, apartment and business in the city of RichmondHenrico County all the way to the Goochland county line, and parts of Hanover every single month – at 20 mph?

That’s what the 11 employees of the city of Richmond Department of Public Utilities’ Meter Reading Department do in order to electronically collect the data necessary to send out accurate water and gas bills to customers.

Years ago, it was an even more daunting task when meters were manually read by gas and water service technicians who had to walk into every yard to read the meter. With the advent of computers, a city vehicle equipped with a mobile data collector can record the readings transmitted by antennas on gas and water meters as the vehicle slowly passes the location.

As each neighborhood is scanned block by block, the computer shows the meters that were missed and each missed location is immediately revisited. If the meter still doesn’t register, a gas and water service technician visits the location the following day to investigate and fix the problem. Typical problems include old antenna batteries – they have an average lifespan of 7-10 years, the water meter well is flooded from a recent rain, or the customer has cut or damaged the wire to the antenna.

A typical day’s route might drive by 8,500 meters and take as long as 10 hours to complete. On some routes, it’s necessary to drive through alleyways behind houses or pull into driveways in order to pick up the signal.

Typical types of antennas found on water and gas meters.

A service technician loads a computer with the day's route on it into the data collector strapped to the passenger seat.

A laptop computer keeps the service technician updated with meters that failed to register and need to be read again.

Instead of a service technician in your yard, you're more likely to catch a glimpse of a city vehicle driving slowly down your street on meter-reading day.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Steidel Named DPU Director

Bob Steidel

Chief Administrative Officer Byron C. Marshall announced that Robert Steidel has been selected to serve as director of Public Utilities, effective March 7. Steidel had served as interim director for the department since July 31, 2010, replacing Chris Beschler who had served as director of Public Utilities while also serving as deputy chief administrative officer of Operations.

Steidel was the deputy director for the Department of Public Utilities for more than seven years. Prior to beginning city service, he served as the environmental manager for the city of Hopewell’s Regional Wastewater Treatment Facility; industrial surveillance supervisor for the Rock River Water Reclamation District in Rockford, Ill.; environmental health sanitarian for Winnebago County Department of Public Health in Rockford, Ill.; and biologist for Winona State University, Minn.

“Bob Stiedel has proven to be a valuable asset to the Department of Public Utilities and has provided excellent leadership in managing the stormwater utility,” said Mayor Dwight C. Jones. “We look forward to his continued expertise in providing utility services to the city and surrounding county residents, while protecting our region’s most treasured resource in the James River.”

Stiedel holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Winona State University, Minn., and a Master of Public Administration from Virginia Commonwealth University.

Monday, March 7, 2011

City Reduces Fluoride Levels in Drinking Water

The city of Richmond Department of Public Utilities has reduced the fluoride levels in the drinking water treatment process from 0.90 milligrams per liter (mg\l) to 0.70 mg\l of water, effective March 1, 2011.

This comes as a result of a January 2011 recommendation from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). In a joint press release, HHS proposed "that the recommended level of fluoride in drinking water can be set at the lowest end of the current optimal range to prevent tooth decay." This replaces the previous recommended range of 0.7 to 1.2 milligrams per liter. The reasons for the change include the increased access of Americans to more sources of fluoride. The new guidance updates and replaces recommendations provided in 1962 by the U.S. Public Health Service.

"Reducing the fluoride dose will not require a change in the city's drinking water treatment process and comes at no increase in cost," said Bob Steidel, director of the Richmond Department of Public Utilities. "Based upon the EPA and HHS recommendation, we want to ensure that we are doing everything we can to maximize the health benefits of our city's drinking water fluoridation process."

Dr. Donald Stern, Richmond City director of Public Health, noted that "the U.S. Centers for Disease Control considers water fluoridation one of the top 10 public health achievements of the 20th century due to its contribution to improved dental health. Extensive literature review has shown that the new fluoridation standard is best to prevent disease while avoiding excess fluoride exposure."

For more information about national and state drinking water regulations for fluoride, visit the EPA website, the Center for Disease Control, or the Virginia Office of Drinking Water.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

DPU Receives NBP EMS Certification

The city of Richmond's Department of Public Utilities received National Biosolids Partnership (NBP) certification of its environmental management system following a verification audit report by NSF International Strategic Registrations on Jan. 14, 2011. DPU is the 32nd organization and second in Virginia to achieve NBP certification.

To learn more about the city's biosolids program, visit our web page.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Monday, January 10, 2011

Our Citizens Love Natural Gas Log Fires

The Yartz family loves their natural gas log fireplace. "With the turn of a dial, we have a beautiful fire that doesn't require a supply of wood or any ash clean-up. With all the snow Richmond received this winter, we used the fireplace often. The kids especially love warming next to it and sipping hot chocolate after sled riding," says mom Julie. Pictured is daughter Katherine.
Like all true snugglebunnies, Oregon Hill's Butterbean the rabbit enjoys a natural gas fireplace, reports Angela Lehman-Rios.