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Richmond's Combined Sewer System

Every time you use water – from washing your hands to doing your laundry – you generate wastewater. This wastewater flows through miles of pipes to the City of Richmond Department of Public Utilities wastewater treatment plant to be cleaned before being released into the James River.

Since the plant was built in 1959, the City has invested more than $1.5 billion in upgrades. Our efforts have helped transform the James River from a polluted waterway to an economic growth engine for Richmond. A healthy James has revitalized downtown Richmond, including Manchester. The James River Park System hosts more than two million visitors every year. The river has seen wildlife return; attracted new businesses; and inspired education, entertainment, and sports programs and activities.

Yet there is more to be done. Stormwater mixed with wastewater overflows into the river during heavy rains, a problem caused by Richmond’s combined sewer system (CSS).  These parts of Richmond’s sewer system are more than 150 years old and were designed as a combined sewer system, with pipes made to transport both wastewater and stormwater. During heavy rains, the volume of water in these pipes exceeds their capacity, and the pipes overflow, releasing untreated water into local waterways. When this happens, it’s called a combined sewer overflow (CSO).

Our existing plans have been fast-tracked. We are working to maximize existing infrastructure and, if necessary, will expand the system as needed. While users of the system will pay for most of these improvements, we are hoping to receive infrastructure funding from state and federal authorities.

Together, we can meet this challenge - for the health of our waterways, our economy, and our community for generations to come.

Learn more about how Richmond's CSS works, and the work we're doing, in our StoryMap.

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