Aqua Virginia says “culprit” may be tampering with sewer lines

O’Brien says residents have “zero faith” in the company

By Heather Michon

Aqua Virginia president John J. Aulbach told the Board of Supervisors Wednesday night (Nov. 1) that someone may be deliberately tampering with its sewer system, potentially contributing to blockages and overflows at Lake Monticello in recent months.

Lake Monticello suffered multiple instances of raw sewage dumping into the water at Jackson Cove and Polk Cove over the summer. Aulbach talked at some length about “sanitary sewer overflows” (SSOs), which occur when sewer lines become clogged with household greases and fats, flushable wipes, sanitary products, and rags.

He also introduced a mystery.

One image shown to the supervisors was of a large commercial mop head sticking out of a sewer line. “That cannot go down a three-inch toilet line,” he said. “The only way for that to get into the system is a deliberate action by someone intending to do harm or who just doesn’t care.”

Nor was this the only instance of finding mop heads and other items – including PVC pipe pieces and 2x4s – in the system. Someone, he said, is physically lifting manhole covers and dropping these items into the sewer.

“We’ll find this culprit, and when we do, I will enact the fullest authority of law enforcement – local, state, and federal – for tampering with a wastewater system,” he said.

One tool Aqua has deployed is a set of “smart” manhole covers, which, among other things, can alert staff when one of them is opened. Aulbach said they’ve installed 10 smart covers at $11,000 a piece, and plan to move them around in the hopes of catching this “rascal.”

During his presentation, he touched only briefly on Aqua’s request to the State Corporation Commission (SCC) for a 30 percent increase in base rates for water and wastewater. 

But at the end of his talk, Rivanna Supervisor Tony O’Brien, whose district covers much of Lake Monticello, said it seemed “incredibly tone deaf” to be asking for such a large increase in the aftermath of a summer of sewage leaks and water main breaks. 

O’Brien said his constituents “have zero faith in Aqua, and that’s not a good place to be as a company.”

Aulbach said he appreciated hearing customers’ opinions. “We just got to share the facts with people,” he said. “I have not done a good job of sharing what I’m doing, what we’re doing, so people don’t think we’re doing anything.”

Action matters

In action matters, supervisors approved:

The 2024 legislative program for the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission;

The annual Wheelin’ Sportsmen deer hunt at Pleasant Grove;

The dissolution of the Fluvanna Partnership for the Aging committee;

A contract with CityScape to manage the county’s telecommunications towers.

Resolution on Israel

During public comments, Palmyra resident Sam Richardson spoke on issues far outside the county’s borders.

“I’m coming to you this evening as one of the few members of the Jewish community in Fluvanna County,” he said. “As you know, October the 7th was one of the most tragic days since the Holocaust, and I want you to know, because people haven’t been asking and a lot of people don’t know the Jewish community in Central Virginia: we’re hurt, we’re scared, we’re angry, we’re frustrated, and quite frankly, we feel alone. The lack of response from our non-Jewish friends has been deafening.”

On that day, the terrorist organization Hamas attacked inside Israel killing at least 1,400 Israelis, and abducting at least 240 hostages.

He asked the supervisors to pass a resolution condemning the Oct. 7 attack. “I’m asking for a solid statement from this board of standing with your Jewish community and with the people of Israel against terrorism.”

Chair Mozell Booker (Fork Union) said they would take up the resolution at their Nov. 15 meeting.

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