Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Community Meetings on Rate Setting Process

The Department of Public Utilities hosted a community meeting at the Operations Center at 400 Jefferson Davis Highway in December 2012. Twenty-eight citizens attended.

The city team began with a presentation on the rate setting process, and then presented ideason affordability. One was a customer assistance program. The existing program, MetroCare, provides assistance to qualifying customers for heating assistance and is funded through voluntary contributions and fundraising by DPU. A more comprehensive program would also provide assistance with water, wastewater, and stormwater bills to qualifying economically disadvantaged customers.

The program would work in tandem with the existing Virginia Department of Social Services' Energy Assistance Program for Richmond through an agreement with the Richmond Department of Social Services. Discussions on this are ongoing. A variety of subsidy options were presented and comparisons made to affordability programs in other cities.

Other ideas including reducing the base rate, but increasing the rate for the volume of water actually used, which would encourage conservation and allow each customer to have more control over the amount of their water bill through using less water.

The meeting was then opened to citizen comment. Deputy Director Bob Steidel told the group that the topics of highest priority to Richmond citizens, as determined during community meetings during the year, were schools, services for low income residents, maintaining and improving the city's infrastructure, and safety. Although at one time it was true that commercial customers' water rates were lower, that has been changed and currently residential and commercial accounts pay the same rate.

It was agreed that the current utility bill is difficult to comprehend and new bills would provide more comprehensive information.

The Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) the Department of Public Utilities is required by City Charter to pay into the city's general fund was discussed at length, and what is mandated by charter and what is determined by city ordinances.

For another view, read Michael Martz's report on the meeting in the Dec. 19 Richmond Times-Dispatch, which includes what is involved in changing the charter.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The De-Lawning Movement

It's not often that Chimborazo Elementary School in Richmond's inner city generates positive attention but June 1 was a special day. Mayor Dwight Jones, Congressman Bobby Scott and assorted state and local dignitaries gathered to celebrate the inauguration of a storm water garden on what had been a gray asphalt school yard.

Read the full article on Bacon's Rebellion here.

Monday, October 29, 2012

What's a rain barrel for?

Rain barrel decorated by Boushall Middle School students.
A typical rain barrel consists of a 55 gallon plastic drum, a spigot for draining at the bottom, an overflow outlet and hose, and a screen on top to keep out leaves and insects.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Talking Water Rates in the 4th District

DPU Director Bob Steidel (center) spoke at a 4th District meeting on how water rates are set. The issue was how to make rates socially responsible while at the same time maintaining the environmental integrity of the James River, and complying with city ordinances.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Benefits of Planting Green!

What a great segment from WTVR! The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation and Peggy Singlemann with The Central Virginia Nursery and Landscape Association got together to speak about some of the best tips to reduce stormwater runoff!

The below link will take you to the segment.

Don't forget to call 811 Before you Dig places for your new trees and shrubs!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Customer Photo

J. Carpenter gives a thumbs-up for this natural gas generator installed earlier this year. His wife Virginia reports, "It has served us well during the 43 1/2-hour power outage of June 25, 2012. It kept the electricity on for our air conditioning, lights, computer, phone, radio, television, microwave and toaster oven. By using extension cords, two of our Northside neighbors took turns keeping their refrigerators cold.

"Days later, the generator was in use again for a three-hour outage. Once a week we hear it cut on for 12 minutes to recharge its battery.

"Our hot water heater has used natural gas for many years. Eight years ago, we had the oil furnace replaced with a natural gas furnace we find reliable and efficient. We are pleased to have added the natural gas generator to our set of useful modern conveniences that have become necessities! Mr. Carpenter says a generator gives 'senior security.'"

The Carpenters say the company that installed the generator took care of the permits as well.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Crooked Branch Contamination Investigation

During March and April of 2012, water quality monitors with the Reedy Creek Coalition (RCC) identified foul odors and elevated E. coli counts at a monitoring site on Crooked Branch, a tributary of Reedy Creek. The RCC notified the City of Richmond’s Department of Public Utilities (DPU) regarding their observations and the DPU Pretreatment Program began an investigation on April 25, 2012.

Environmental technicians with DPU’s Pretreatment Program took water samples from the outfall where Crooked Branch daylights at Crutchfield Street and submitted them to the Richmond Wastewater Treatment Plant laboratory for analysis. The technicians also noted a foul, sewage-like odor, and turbid water at the outfall.

The results of the samples were reported by the lab on April 30 and confirmed the findings of the RCC volunteers, indicating E. coli levels of 435 MPN (most probable number ) /100 mL (milliliters) and ammonia of 0.8 mg/L (milligrams per Litre). The investigating technicians returned to the site and began to trace the contamination upstream using a system map and a handheld YSI Professional Series meter with conductivity, pH (a measurement of acidity), ammonium, and DO (dissolved oxygen) probes.

Concentrations of ammonium were observed to be as high as 2.2 mg/L at a manhole near Midlothian Turnpike and a strong sewage odor was detected. The next accessible manhole was on Brandon Street, west of Belt Boulevard, where a strong sewage odor was noted but ammonium concentrations were found to be less than 1.0 mg/L.

The investigators then proceeded to open manholes on the sanitary sewer line adjacent to the storm sewer and discovered that the sanitary line appeared to be significantly blocked and sewage was backed up in the line. The investigators notified DPU Sewer Maintenance personnel regarding the backup and a crew was dispatched on May 1 to address the problem.

On May 3, the investigating technicians returned to the Crooked Branch outfall and noted that there were no foul odors detectable and that the water appeared to be much less turbid. Follow up sampling showed E. coli levels of 56 MPN/100 mL and ammonia concentrations of less than 0.1 mg/L at the outfall.
The correction of this issue means that significantly less bacteria and nutrients are now entering Reedy Creek through Crooked Branch. The success of this investigation also serves to highlight the benefits for water quality that can be achieved when the city and citizen groups work together to identify and address the problems facing our local waterways.
Written by:
John A. Allen,
Environmental Technician II
Richmond DPU

City Receives Grant for Bellemeade Creek Watershed

The city of Richmond and the Green Infrastructure Center (GIC) have been awarded $59,671 in grant funding for the Bellemeade Creek Watershed Coalition from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The coalition supports environmental restoration of Bellemeade Creek in South Richmond.

The project will establish a new community-based coalition that will be trained in watershed stewardship and healthy communities. Bellemeade Creek is part of an urban watershed that includes the Bellemeade neighborhood and Hillside Court public housing development. It feeds into Goodes Creek, a tributary of the James River. Land use is primarily residential within the neighborhood, but the watershed project area is bound by commercial/industrial corridors along Route 1 and Commerce Avenue.
It also includes the new Oak Grove Elementary School, currently under construction.

Over the past year, the city, GIC and its environmental organization partners have worked with community members, non-profit groups and business leaders to identify strategies to improve the health of both the creek and the community. Components include green streets that provide safe routes to school and improve water quality; creek crossings that provide watershed education and stream bank restoration; and community rain gardens that improve water quality and provide outdoor education.

The City has launched a number of new initiatives to promote walkability, greenways and healthy lifestyles in the city over the past several years, including crosswalk improvements, sidewalk repairs, stormwater runoff mitigation and a plan for better access to the James River.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Church Hill Gets a New Water Tank

The five million gallon ground storage tank in Church Hill at 714 N. 30th Street between 29th, 30th, M and N streets,was replaced in 2012-13. The tank provides processed drinking water to customers in the east part of town.

The former tank was built in 1954 and reached the end of its useful life. The new tank was built south of the existing tank behind the Church Hill Pump Station building.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Customer Photos!

Seth Rosenthal out in Henrico County cooks turkey sausage on his natural gas outdoor grill.

Emily Chambers of Henrico lets her rescue dog, Sadie Mae, relax in front of her natural gas fireplace.  Sadie Mae is a real heat fan!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Flood Wall FAQs

Frequently Asked Floodwall Questions

Q. How many miles long is the floodwall? 
A. North side of James is 4,277 feet long and protects 150 acres of Shockoe Valley. The south side is 13,046 feet long and protects 600 acres. The northside floodwall extends from 12th and Byrd St. to 21st  and E. Cary St. The southside floodwall extends from Goodes St. west to just west of the Manchester Bridge 

Q. What is the highest point of the floodwall? Where is it? What is the lowest point of the floodwall? 
A. The northside wall is between 15 and 25 feet high with the lowest point under the I-95 James River Bridge in Shockoe Bottom. The tallest structure on the southside is the Gravity U-wall just west of the Mayo Bridge which is 43 feet from the top to the river’s edge. This is the lowest point along the south side floodwall.

Q. What material is the floodwall made of? 
A. Richmond's floodwall was completed in 1995. It's made of 22,000 cubic yards of concrete, 1,050 tons of reinforcing steel and 55,000 linear feet of steel piles.

Q. How many staff people work on the floodwall year round? 
A. The current staff is 5. General duties of staff: Preventative maintenance and operation of the floodwalls, canals and Bosher’s Dam Fish Ladder, landscape maintenance in warm weather months and repairs as needed.

Q. How often is Richmond’s floodwall tested? 
A. Road Closures are tested once a year.

Q. When was the last time there was a flood in the city of Richmond? 
A. The last significant floods occurred in 1996. The Blizzard of 1996 struck the Mid-Atlantic region in January, depositing a record amount of snowfall. Within two weeks of the paralyzing blizzard, a major rainstorm blanketed the area. The combination of warm, humid air and heavy rainfall melted the snow at an unprecedented rate. In a little more than a day, 2 to 5 inches of water from snowmelt combined with 2 to 5 inches of rainfall to create massive floods. The James River rose to 22 feet. Seven months later, rains from Hurricane Fran pushed the levels back up to 23.8 feet.

Q. How often are the pump stations checked? 
A. The stations are checked daily and the pumps and related equipment are inspected and operated monthly.

Q. What grade did the last floodwall inspection receive? 
A. The ratings are; Acceptable, Minimally Acceptable, and Unacceptable. The last inspection reports received gave the Minimally Acceptable rating which is standard.

Q. Is the Army Corps of Engineers the only certifying organization for the floodwall? If not, what are the others? 
A. FEMA also requires the floodwall to meet certification for the Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) for providing protection against the base. The City of Richmond received accreditation for the Local Flood Protection Project on March 19, 2010.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Don't Flush Prescription Drugs Down the Drain

More than seven million Americans currently abuse prescription drugs, according to the 2009 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Studies show that a majority of abused prescription drugs are obtained from family and friends, including the home medicine cabinet. This is a great opportunity for those who have accumulated unwanted or unused prescription drugs to safely dispose of those medications. 

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.

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.

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.

Friday, March 23, 2012

12th Street Green Alley Project Update

Project Location
The Department of Public Utilities' 12th Street Green Alley project involved retrofitting the existing 12th St. alley surface utilizing low impact development (LID) or “green” technologies. The LID practices implemented in the alley included a permeable paver system and an underground infiltration trench/underdrain system that provides stormwater runoff treatment and storage before being discharged into the city’s combined sewer system.

This new surface work required that all existing underground utilities and infrastructure (water, sewer, gas, city streetlight power, private utilities, etc.) be upgraded and/or replaced as needed. This effort minimized disruption in the alley and prevented future disturbance by performing all necessary work at one time. 

Utilizing LID technologies for municipal
stormwater and surface improvements is a new initiative being undertaken by the city. This project was one of two demonstration projects -- 5th St. Green Alley was the first -- being used to build a case for targeted citywide implementation of “green” development in Richmond and other urban areas in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Funding for this project came from the city's Wastewater and Stormwater utilities. The surface retrofit was funded by the city and a matching grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

DPU installed new underground systems for water, gas, sanitary sewer, storm sewer and power lines for the city's streetlight system. Verizon installed private utility lines within the alley.

City Lowers Natural Gas Commodity Cost

City of Richmond gas customers will notice a decrease of more than 8 percent in their total natural gas bills effective April 2012.

Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones announced today that the commodity cost, also known as the purchased gas cost (PGC) paid by the city’s natural gas customers will decrease from $.60 to $.50 per ccf (100 cubic feet of natural gas).

“Historic lows in the price of the natural gas commodity as a result of the abundance of shale gas combined with high storage volumes and efficiencies in natural gas infrastructure maintenance have created the opportunity for cost savings in this vital energy source,” said Mayor Jones. “We are pleased that city customers are able to benefit from this savings.”

The average customer who uses 70 ccf per month will pay approximately $77.64 compared to a current price of $84.64. The city of Richmond passes along the cost of the natural gas commodity it purchases to its customers, dollar for dollar, without any markup.

City analysts periodically review and adjust commodity rates up or down based on market and weather conditions. City of Richmond natural gas bill components include the PGC cost, the customer charge and the distribution charge. Recent proposed increases to the natural gas utility bill would affect only the distribution charge and customer charge.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Up on the Roof -- The Green Roof

How often do you notice a roof? If it's the roof on the Richmond Department of Public Utilities' (DPU) Wastewater Treatment Plant effluent filtration building, you'll be sure to notice it because it is green and covered in plants.

A green roof is a permanent rooftop planting system that contains live plants. DPU installed this green roof in the fall of 2010. The building's existing roof is able to withstand the added weight of the plants.

Green roofs offer numerous benefits:

  • Stormwater runoff reduction: Green roofs can absorb up to 99 percent of one inch of rainfall. Water is slightly filtered as it flows through the soil. Even during heavy rainfall, water is delayed running off the roof, allowing additional time for the sanitary sewer system to catch up.
  • Energy savings: Green roofs provide natural insulation and can reduce heating and cooling costs. During summer months, the green roofs absorb sunlight and heat.
  • Wildlife: Plants provide natural habitat for birds and small mammals.
  • Noise reduction: Studies have shown that green roofs can reduce sound by as much as 40 decibels.
  • Longer life than traditional roofs: Green roofs are better protected against ultraviolent radiation, large fluctuations in temperature, drying winds and punctures.
An added bonus is a roof covered in plants is attractive. They provide long-lasting blooms and a change of scenery for city workers. Plants on this green roof include sedum, alliums and euphorbia, all drought-tolerant, low-maintnenace varieties with a shallow root structure.

Green roofs are not new. They have existed for thousands of years and only now are experiencing a resurgence. Consult an engineer to install a green roof on your home or business for environmental and financial benefits, or just to have a peaceful place where the air is fresh and sweet "up on the roof."

Friday, March 2, 2012

Fix a Leak

To receive a kit, email here.

Facts on Leaks

The average household's leaks accounts for more than 10,000 gallons of water wasted every year, enough water to wash nearly 10 months' worth of laundry.

Ten percent of homes have leaks that waste 90 gallons or more a day.

Common leaks include worn toilet flappers, dripping faucets, and leaking showerheads, all easily correctable.

Fixing these leaks can save homeowners more than 10 percent on their water bills.

Leak Detection

A good method to check for leaks is to review your winter water use. A family of four has a serious leak if winter water use exceeds 12,000 gallons per month.

Check your water meter before and after a two-hour period when no water is being used. If the meter does not read exactly the same, you probably have a leak.

Place a drop of food coloring in your toilet tank. If the color shows up in the bowl within 15 minutes, without flushing, you have a leak. (Flush immediately to avoid staining bowl once you see the color.)

A leaky faucet dripping one drip per second wastes more than 3,000 gallons per year.

Faucets and Showerheads

Fix leaky faucets by replacing washers and gaskets for wear.

A showerhead leaking 10 drips per minute wastes 500 gallons per year, enough to wash 60 loads of dishes in your dishwasher.

Most leaky showerheads can be fixed by retightening the connection using pipe tape and a wrench.


If the toilet is leaking, try replacing the flapper. Over time, this inexpensive rubber part decays or gets mineral build-up.

Watersense toilets can save more than 16,000 gallons of water per year for a family of four.


Irrigation systems should be checked each spring to ensure they were not damaged by frost or freezing.

An irrigation system that has a leak barely the thickness of a dime can waste 6,300 gallons per month.

Check garden hoses for leaks at its connection to the spigot. If it leaks when you run the hose, replace the nylon or rubber hose washer and use pipe tape and a wrench for a tighter connection.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Customer Photos

With a natural gas log fireplace, there's no worries about hot embers blowing onto your blanket. Lauren and her dogs, Lady (in the bandana) and Molli snuggle up to their natural gas fireplace.
(Photo contributed by customer Alex Glaser!)

Monday, January 30, 2012

Customer Photos

Chris and Dagny Collier's kids, Jackson, Erin and Oliver, sit in front of the family's natural gas vent-free fireplace, which allows the family to enjoy fireplace warmth in a location where there isn't a chimney. "Does it put out heat!" reports Dagny.  The family also has a gas insert in the downstairs fireplace, a natural gas furnace, a gas water heater, and a gas cooktop stove. "We love our natural gas products!"

Monday, January 23, 2012

Henrico Conducted Sewer Smoke Tests in Gillies Creek Area

The Henrico Department of Public Utilities conducted routine smoke tests of the Gillies Creek area subbasin sanitary sewers in February and March. The testing involved opening manholes and blowing harmless smoke through the sewer system to locate defects and leaks.

Residents were asked to pour water into seldom used drains to fill the trap. That prevented sewer gases, smoke or odors from entering their building.

Once the testing began, smoke was seen coming from the roof vent stacks on houses, building foundations, manhole covers, storm inlets, and holes in the ground. The smoke was non-toxic, clean, harmless to humans, pets, food and material goods. It created no fire hazard. The smoke did not enter homes unless there was defective plumbing or dried up drain traps.

If smoke did enter a home, residents were told to consult a licensed plumber to correct the plumbing problem.

This testing was done in Henrico County by the Henrico County Department of Public Utilities employees, but impacted residents along the Henrico-Richmond boundary in the Gillies Creek area. The Henrico contact telephone number is 501-4992.