POUND, Va. (WJHL) – Dickenson County leaders could take legal action against the Town of Pound as raw sewage leaks into the Pound River.
Untreated wastewater spilling into the river is threatening drinking water, recreation, and tourism, Dickenson County officials say. On Tuesday, they sent a letter to Pound leaders, calling for an immediate stop to the flow of untreated wastewater into the Pound River and Flannagan Reservoir.
The Town of Pound’s manager told News Channel 11 he’s doing everything in his power to resolve the issue, but the exact cause of the sewage leak has yet to be located.
But Dickenson County leaders also question why they found out about the issue from a Virginia Department of Health advisory issued May 6th, rather than Pound officials when the wastewater problem began in late March.
Dickenson County takes action
Joshua Evans, chairman of the Dickenson County Board of Supervisors, said the lack of communication from Pound is a key part of their frustration.
“We had children and families in the river, actually swimming. We had kayakers in the river kayaking. And we had no knowledge of the sewage plant being run into the Pound River,” he said.
Evans said the county has high hopes for developing the recreation area near the Town of Clintwood along the Pound River. Now, signs are posted around the park warning people to stay out of the water.
Evans wrote the letter to Pound leaders, threatening to take legal action against the town and seek enforcement penalties “through various State and Federal Agencies.”
“We’re serious about pursuing all legal avenues. This is very troubling to me and our board. And if it means shutting down the sewage plant, shutting down the sewage system in Pound to try to protect our citizens and our families and our drinking water, then we’re prepared to do that,” he said.
After releasing the letter, Evans said county leaders were contacted by the Virginia Attorney General’s Office, VDH, and Department of Environmental Quality.
“That’s our hope, that it gets fixed immediately,” Evans said.
Dickenson County Administrator Larry Barton says community health is at risk.
“We want our water to be safe, not just for outdoor activities, but this is a primary drinking source for Dickenson County. Part of it goes back to Town of Pound, it goes to other counties, Buchanan County, so we process drinking water for all the local counties,” said Barton.
Pound searches for the leak
Pound’s wastewater treatment plant can handle 500,000 gallons of water per day. Problems began March 24, with storm flooding leading to the system taking in 1.7 million gallons per day.
“Twelve hundred gallons per minute is coming into the plant currently,” said Drew Mullins, manager for the Town of Pound.
Officials believe the leak can be found in the sewer lines within the riverbed or on a manhole.
“There’s a significant problem, but we cannot find it,” said Mullins. “We’ve done camera work. DEQ had seven people in here along with us, floating the river in kayaks and canoes. We’ve done that. We’ve put dye in the river, in the manholes themselves. No dye has come out. We can’t tell where the problem is.”
The actual amount of sewage continually being released into the river is also unclear, Mullins said. Water going back out into the river from the plant is being treated with chlorine.
“We’re doing E. coli samples. Those have come back below detection level, which is good news,” he said.
Understanding the ‘severity‘
In 2016, Mullins said Pound secured $4.2 million in loan and grant money through the Virginia Resources Authority. The funding package would cover treatment plant, infiltration, and inflow upgrades. This would resolve the stormwater problem.
“It would solve every single issue,” he said.
The project funding is on hold due to Pound not completing fiscal year audits. The town’s financial complications are another matter Mullins says he’s working to resolve as manager.
“Currently the town is two years behind, getting ready to be three years behind. So as a result of that, they’re holding the money there,” he said.
Mullins has served as Pound’s manager for approximately two months, around the time the wastewater issue began. He said DEQ first notified him of the “severity” of the problem on April 1.
“As soon as they notified me, I got on the phone and called all the town council members,” he said.
Asked why town officials did not notify surrounding localities of the issue, Mullins said Pound council members had been more focused on other matters besides public works, including lettering on police cars, who had keys to town hall, and the location of the mayor’s office.
“Some issues have taken greater precedence over the actual serious issues…there’s a lot of turmoil in town right now. A lot,” said Mullins.
He said further, “I don’t think the severity of the situation had ever been fully expressed. Whether it be the severity of fines from DEQ, various agencies. We’re talking significant fines.”
Mullins affirmed town council members understand what’s at stake now.
“They fully recognize it now. I have made that incredibly clear to them,” he said.