Lake Monticello directors accuse AQUA Virginia of “operational negligence”

By Carlos Santos

The directors of the Lake Monticello Owners Association have accused AQUA Virginia of “operational negligence” after two recent incidents in which raw sewage flowed into its lake.

Larry Henson, the president of the association, wrote a letter on Friday (July 28) to AQUA Virginia President John J. Aulbach, claiming “AQUA Virginia has failed to manage its infrastructure in the Lake Monticello Homeowners Association (LMOA) community resulting in health hazards to our residents and polluting our lake environment. The operational negligence requires immediate attention and actions by AQUA Virginia to remedy these occurrences where sewage from AQUA Virginia’s infrastructure has spilled into the lake…It is not a satisfactory situation where AQUA does not know of the failure of its equipment until notified by the customer, Lake Monticello Homeowners Association in this case.”

Heather Keefer, the regional communications specialist for AQUA in Virginia and North Carolina, said, “we don’t know what caused this. We’re doing further investigation. It could be sewer, animals…we’re still trying to figure out what’s going on.” 

Asked about the LMOA’s charge of operational negligence, she called it a “bold statement.”.

Henson said that AQUA Virginia, which provides water and sewage treatment for the Lake, has spilled waste from its pumping stations twice in the last 11 months. 

“These spills resulted in hazardous conditions for our residents, whose waterfront properties were affected, and the closure of amenities for which the residents pay to use as part of their homeowners’ dues. In short, these sewage spills affect LMOA businesses and residents. In both incidents, AQUA Virginia was not aware that the pump station or supporting infrastructure had failed until notified by the customer. This is an unacceptable business practice,” Henson said in the letter.

The latest incident occurred on July 14 and was discovered and reported by a Lake resident who saw sewage overflow from a manhole at the end of Jackson Cove.

Water testing performed by LMOA on July 10 showed the E. coli measurements already exceeded the Virginia Department of Health levels for public open waters – five days prior to the observed sewage spill – which means the spillage was “likely occurring for several days while AQUA was unaware of it.” LMOA notified the residents to avoid swimming in Jackson Cove and closed the beach in that cove.

The second sewage spill occurred on Aug. 10, 2022, after the AQUA pump station located between Amethyst Road and Ponderosa Lane failed, Henson said. “Sewage was entering the lake from a failed pump station via the cove between those roads. A resident contacted LMOA and LMOA staff confirmed that an AQUA pump station was pumping raw sewage into Lake Monticello. Monroe Cove and Beach 3 were closed to swimming for nearly two weeks due to elevated E. coli measurements that exceeded Virginia Department of Health guidelines.”

Henson noted that Lake Monticello residents pay some of the highest water and sewer rates in the United States, “yet the public utility providing these services fails to perform proactively in the management of the sewer infrastructure. Negligence in the operations of this public utility has affected the public health of our residents and the environmental health of our largest amenity, our lake. This is unacceptable and requires investigation by the organizations that oversee the public utilities in the state of Virginia and the County of Fluvanna.”

Henson requested that AQUA Virginia check each pump station daily and raised a concern about the company’s inability to support future residential and commercial growth near Lake Monticello – such as the massive Colonial Circle development just off Rt. 53. “Further taxing an infrastructure that is approaching capacity or functional obsolescence introduces risk to the environmental health of our lake and community,” he wrote.

Marieke Henry, the communications director at Lake Monticello, emailed residents that the “situation at Jackson Cove has high priority” and “because we are dissatisfied with Aqua Virginia’s response time,” the LMOA has reached out to Fluvanna County, the Department of Environmental Quality, the State Cooperation Commission, which oversees AQUA Virginia, the Blue Ridge Health Department and the Virginia Department of Health.

She noted that as a precaution, LMOA has ordered additional testing at all beaches and urged residents to “voice your concerns to Aqua Virginia, as many of you already have.”

Lake Monticello, in Fluvanna County, has over 12,000 residents, and about 4,400 homes.

Aqua Virginia provides water and wastewater service to about 100,000 people in 37 counties and cities across Virginia.

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