Raw sewage flows into the James River. Lynchburg is trying to stop it.

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LYNCHBURG, Va. (WFXR) — Lynchburg is one of three cities in Virginia where raw sewage makes its way into the river. The others are Richmond and Alexandria.

Things like condoms, sanitary pads, and feces have been found in catfish caught in the river.

For about 30 years now, Lynchburg has been working to change that, and the project is in its final years.

In Lynchburg, storm water and sewage go through the same system to be treated. In simple terms, when there’s a big rainstorm, the system just can’t handle all that volume and the excess water overflows into creeks and the James River. Once complete, the project will cut back on untreated water in the James by about 93%.

Officials say they’ll never be able to collect 100 percent of water from the more intense storms.

“If we have a really heavy rainstorm,” said Greg Poff, Deputy Director of Lynchburg Water Resources, “let’s say we get 6 inches of rain in two hours, well that’s going to overtax the system going into the wastewater plant, and yes, some of that overflow will be flow going out into the James River.”

But they have a plan to stop as much as possible.

“It’s a wet weather storage tank,” said Poff. “It’s a 4 million dollar swimming pool, basically, that when the flow gets up because of the rainfall, we’re going to start pumping into the storage container, basically a four million dollar tank.”

You can see that tank being constructed in the time-lapse video below.

When the storm passes, the water they collect in the tank will then go through the treatment process. Poff expects it will be in use by this time next year.

As for those overflow points, there used to be 132 spots throughout Lynchburg where the water would flow.

Now, they’re down to 17.

“All the remaining large overflow points, i.e. large volumes are on the river itself. Used to not be that way. Used to have overflow points back in the neighborhoods.”

Those points are spewing out a lot less compared to when the project started 30 years ago.

“You can see that it went from, I guess that would be a billion and some gallons down to an annual average of 69 million gallons, which still that is a lot of flow, but look at the improvements we made to get there.”

He applauds sewage customers for shouldering a lot of the economic burden and making the project possible.

After all the system upgrades are complete, there will be a phase of sampling and modeling to prove that the system is working before the project is officially complete. Poff says that will happen within 6 to 10 years.

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