2013-02-06 / News

County to map uncharted waters of storm drains

By Michael Buettner

Some taxpayers these days seem to believe that all government spending is money down the drain. But that’s literally going to be the case with nearly $300,000 the county is about to spend in response to heightened federal protections for the Chesapeake Bay.

Last month, the Board of Supervisors awarded a contract for $295,692 to World View Solutions of Richmond to create a detailed map of the county’s stormwater system. World View was one of 15 companies to submit bids for the project.

The project will provide “specific documentation of the location of storm drainage systems and associated outfalls,” according to the county’s Environmental Engineering Department. The documentation is necessary “not only for water quality but to properly respond to illicit discharges” and help with drainage maintenance, according to the department.

Environmental Engineering Director Dick McElfish said in an interview that his department began its own effort to map “all of our storm sewers” about 10 years ago.

Department staff has mapped the system in some parts of the county, including the Midlothian Turnpike corridor and parts of the Jefferson Davis Highway corridor, he said. However, he said, the pace of growth in the county was such that “we couldn’t keep up with it.”

In addition, McElfish said, developers have been required for the past several years to submit electronic copies of storm drainage systems in new subdivisions, including paved and unpaid drainage ditches, and holding ponds known as BMPs (best management practices).

But that still leaves a lot of the county’s drainage unmapped, which can create problems. For example, McElfish said, “We’ve got to deal with illegal discharges. If you get a spill, where’s it going to come out?”

McElfish estimated that with all of the pipes and ditches involved countywide, the overall stormwater system comprises “hundreds of miles, probably well up in the thousands.”

The finished map, which will use the latest in digital technology, will actually be a useful tool for his department, McElfish said.

It will include not only the locations of all of those drains, pipes, ditches and BMPs but will also provide details on the type and materials each structure is made of – for example, whether a ditch is lined with concrete or with grass.

The mapping project will take about 10 months to complete.

McElfish, who plans to retire next month, said he’s a little sorry he won’t get to see the project through to completion. “I really would like to see it come to fruition,” he said.

The money for the mapping project is a small part of what the county expects to pay over the next 15 years to meet stepped-up federal standards for stormwater flowing into the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.

The county’s proposed capital improvement program for the next five years includes $37.4 million to meet those mandates, and officials have said they expect the entire cost to total $250 million through 2028.

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