At the center of controversy for many years the Virginia Beach Pumping Station is a sight few would recognize when they saw it.
Located on Peahill Creek, near Valentines, Va., the facility, disguised as a lake home, pumps an estimated 10 to 15 million gallons of water from Lake Gaston to Virginia Beach per day.
Recently, Lake Gaston Regional Chamber of Commerce board members took a tour of the facility led by Dwayne Craddock, City of Virginia Beach project manager.
The pumping station is manned by five people, who maintain the facility and the 76-miles of pipe leading to Virginia Beach, Craddock explained.
While most of the pipe is underground, he said there are six areas where the pipe crosses over water.
“The pumping station is the biggest thing you see,” he said, adding that it can take up to two months to keep the right-of-way clear. “It’s a continual mowing operation.”
Craddock shared that historically, more than 20 years ago, the City was looking at its plans for the future and realized that in only a few short years there would not be enough water for continued growth.
He said the City started looking for alternatives that included desalinization but auxiliary methods were too costly. That’s when the Army Corps of Engineers suggested the Roanoke River Basin as a good source.
“They got a lot of push back,” Craddock said, adding there was a lot of litigation from people and groups that opposed the Interbasin Water Transfer. “There was a lot of litigation saying ‘This is our water.”
Board member Gene St. Clair said he remembers vividly when the facility was being built – his company, Roanoke Porta-Johns supplied toilets during the construction process.
St. Clair said during that phase there was a lot of concern about safety. The decision to pump water out of Lake Gaston for Virginia Beach’s consumption was less than popular and there were anti-terrorist features built in, just in case.
“There are blast doors and the building is elevated so that it’s hard to get a straight line of shot,” St. Clair said. “There is only one entrance and there are surveillance cameras everywhere. With the state of our world today they have to take those kinds of measures to prevent a Colorado Springs kind of event. You notice everything was designed to protect the people working there. A facility you can fix but you can’t replace the people.”
The courts finally settled the issue, Craddock said, and construction began on the facility in the early 1990s and later that decade the City began minimal pumping
He commented the City actually pays Dominion Power for whatever water they pump because that water cannot be used for power generation, causing Dominion to lose money.
According to Craddock, water is taken directly from the lake through underwater piping system. The pumps, located at the rear of the 7,000-foot facility are partially below ground level, giving the building the illusion of being much smaller. He showed the group how the intake valves are periodically cleaned by blowing air through the pipe to dislodge any fish, leaves or other debris that may have become lodged in the grate.
He assured everyone that someone manually checks to make sure no one is near the valve when they blow it out.
Chamber President/CEO Christina Wells asked Craddock if the city ever subleases Lake Gaston water to other areas, to which he responded, “We would never pull water out and sell it to someone else. The way it works is Norfolk (where the water treatment facility is located) tells us how much to pump and we pump it to them.”
Craddock went on to say the City is interested in reserving the water they use for growth.
“We don’t supply anyone else,” he said. “That’s part of our permit.”
Craddock talked briefly about how the facility suspended pumping and performed numerous tests for heavy metals and other contaminants when word was received about the coal ash spill upriver last year. He said it was a matter of logistics to figure how the contaminants would react, since the City had already done a model of how contaminants would react coming downstream from the Virginia Uranium plight.
He said the City also took samples upstream to monitor the water source.
Participants couldn’t help but notice the cleanliness of the facility and more than one commented on the pristine conditions of the location.
Chamber board member, Susan Bersch commented that she was surprised at the fact that the amount of water pulled for the project is so insignificant compared to the total number of gallons of water moving downstream.
She said she remembers all the talk during the early stages of the transfer and how many people warned Virginia Beach would drain Lake Gaston Dry.
Bersch, who had interests both in Virginia Beach and Lake Gaston said it was worrisome at the time.
“It’s been many years and we’re now past those concerns,” she said. “The fact they got it done is a great example of how things an be done around here. IT’s a great story of success of how two states really can collaborate.”