HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- Three environmental advocacy groups said Henrico County has allowed 66 million gallons of raw sewage to flow in the James River over the past five years. Now, they want the county to take action to remedy the problem.
Pulling into Deep Bottom Park in eastern Henrico after a windy day fishing on the James River, Roy Campbell learned about the sewage for the first time.
"I’m concerned as far as my health and those that fish around here," Campbell said.
According to the advocacy groups, Henrico County has been discharging millions of gallons of raw sewage into county creeks and waterways for three decades.
That sewage then flows into the James.
"A lot of folks don’t know, so you might be out on a hike in a neighborhood and smell raw sewage and you might be like I don’t really know what that is if Henrico County and let people know if they had a notification procedure than folks would know and be able to protect themselves accordingly," Taylor Lilley, an environmental justice staff attorney for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
The environmental groups, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, James River Association and Environmental Integrity Project, filed a federal lawsuit Monday to try to force Henrico to fix its sewer system, and alert residents to discharges, similar to Richmond.
"It seemed like the administrative efforts and the department's efforts just weren’t going to get the job done," Lilley said.
A video provided by the advocacy groups shows part of what’s happening when heavy rainfall overwhelms the system forcing raw sewage to pour out of the sewer.
"That was on Stony Run right on the Richmond-Henrico border. A tributary to Gilles creek," Jamie Brunkow with the James River Association said.
Brunkow said there are a multitude of reasons why the untreated sewage and sediment escapes the system.
"There are a number of ways a sanitary sewer overflow can occur. It can be a clog in the pipe, it can be a pipe that’s broken," Brunkow said.
Bronkow said this is happening all over Henrico County, from the west end to the east end.
"We have seen it over the years in all portions of the county Tuckahoe Creek, Upham Brook a tributary of the Chickahominy River over in eastern Henrico, Almond Creek and Stony Run and Gillies Creek," Brunkow said.
The trio of advocacy groups said the county has received 40 violation notices since the sewage treatment facility opened in 1989 and yet the problem persists.
"We are taking this action to ask Henrico to step up and do more," Brunkow said.
When asked about the lawsuit, Henrico County shared the following statement:
Henrico County is dedicated to protecting the health of the public and is deeply committed to environmental stewardship in Central Virginia and the Chesapeake Bay. The county is reviewing this lawsuit and looks forward to a full presentation of the facts through the legal process.