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Henrico’s Cobbs Creek Reservoir nears completion

A drone view of construction at the Cobb Creek Reservoir
Henrico County Government
Henrico County Government Youtube
Cobbs Creek Reservoir Construction is seen from an Aug. 18, 2022 video showing the update.

The county’s $280 million regional water supply project has been under construction since 2017.

Henrico’s multimillion-dollar development meant to protect residents’ drinking water is nearing completion, according to Bentley Chan, the county’s director of public utilities.

Cobbs Creek Reservoir, located in Cumberland County near the confluence of the James and Rivanna rivers, has been under construction since June 2017. The reservoir is a 14.8-billion-gallon regional water supply that will take water from the James River during high flow periods and store it so that it can be released during drought conditions.

Construction of Cobbs Creek is set to be completed this year, and the reservoir is expected to be fully operational by the end of 2023.

“We are around 90% complete. We’re looking to have substantial completion near the end of this year and be able to begin filling the reservoir,” Chan said.

In exchange for the construction of the Cobbs Creek Reservoir, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality approved an 47-million-gallon increase of water per day that can be taken from the river to supply drinking water.

Now, Henrico can withdraw up to 75 million gallons per day. These higher limits will allow Henrico to help residents in areas dependent on county services.

Chan highlighted rural areas in the Varina and Fairfield Districts, or households that may be dependent on groundwater, as examples of places in need of improved water services.

“What we're doing now is identifying all of those areas and working with our staff as well as consultants in developing projects that will give residents more reliable, more robust, more sustainable services,” Chan said.

Chan also told VPM News that areas that rely on groundwater, or have out-of-date septic systems, are of high concern for the county — as well as places with known contaminants that pose a health risk to residents.

As VPM News has previously reported, Henrico is required to complete a $1 million environmental improvement project by 2029 as part of a federal settlement between environmental groups over decades of pollutants in the county's wastewater collection system and Henrico Water Reclamation Facility.

The 34-year-old eastern Henrico facility and its connected wastewater system have been subject to at least 40 violation notices and five different state consent orders since it began operations in 1989.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, James River Association and the Environmental Integrity Project were all parties concerned that the county was entering into another consent order with the state Department of Environmental Quality.

In the lawsuit, the groups referenced state data that indicated 66 million gallons of sewage flowed into the James River between 2016 and 2021.

“This legally enforceable agreement ensures that the public will be better informed and protected from sewage spills and pollution violations,” Bill Street, CEO of the James River Association, said in a March statement. “Additionally, we are pleased that all parties involved were able to reach agreement on projects that will benefit the James River and consider climate change impacts in future plans.”

In addition to Cobbs Creek, Henrico’s $1.3 billion Capital Improvement Plan includes more than $200 million in funds toward construction, repairs and improvements for various water and sewer facilities, including water and sewer main extensions.

“The James River is such an historic and iconic waterway, it is great news that this settlement agreement will help reduce sewage overflows that pose a public health threat to kayakers and anglers.” Jen Duggan, deputy director of the Environmental Integrity Project, said.

“Henrico County’s new public notification system, improved inspections, and wastewater filters — among other steps — will all help the cause of a healthy and restored James River,” she added.

Lyndon German covers Henrico and Hanover counties for VPM News.