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Henrico staff visits $280M Cobbs Creek project

A drone view of Cobbs Creek
APEX Media
For VPM News
Cobbs Creek is seen on Wednesday, October 25, 2023 in Columbia, Virginia.

The reservoir is expected to serve as a regional water supply for decades.

The Henrico County Board of Supervisors and its staff toured the $280-million Cobbs Creek Reservoir project earlier this week. The water project, located in Cumberland County, has been under construction since 2017, but is nearing completion.

Bentley Chan, director of Henrico's Department of Public Utilities, previously told VPM News the facility was nearly 90% finished. Now, Chan said Cobbs Creek will ramp up water storage during the next eight months.

“I’m so very excited,” he said. “We're hoping to be kind of at the point where we can start filling it, which could take about a year. Once we're full, this will be just a very nice recreational facility for residents in the area, as well as a very sustainable source of water.”

Once it’s filled, the body of water will also be used for fishing, swimming and boating via a two-lane boat ramp. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries also has partnered with Henrico to stock the reservoir with fish, and timber from the surrounding development will be used to build underwater habitats for them.

A 48-space parking area is adjacent to the pool and dock.

The 1,117-acre reservoir can store nearly 15 billion gallons of water from the James River, releasing water back into the river to maintain its flow during dry periods. According to the county, Cobbs Creek will be the largest reservoir in Virginia once it’s complete.

During a recent tour of the facility, Chan showed county officials the pump stations capable of distributing water to different areas along the river, as well as three multistory dams that will trap water from the James in areas west of the village of Columbia. About 75 million gallons of water from the James can be diverted into the creek each day, helping to distribute drinking water to the county and surrounding areas.

That process also works in reverse.

“It's an opportunity for us to be more sustainable, as well as provide for the water needs for the county and for the region for the next 50 to 75 years,” Chan said.

As Cobbs Creek — one of the county’s long-term sustainability investments — comes to fruition, some area residents have expressed concerns over other aspects of Henrico’s environmental stewardship.

During an Oct. 10 Board of Supervisors meeting, several people said the county needs to adopt a long-term climate action plan to address environmental concerns.

Anne-Marie Leake, a member of the Henrico Conservation Action Network, asked the board to take more immediate action to secure a sustainable future.

“We urge you to take the additional step of adopting a climate action plan to assert the county’s leadership in environmental sustainability,” Leake told the board. “[It’s] a crucial policy area that impacts all areas of Henrico’s quality of life and economic stability.”

HCAN previously hosted a climate action plan forum and started a petition in June asking the board to take immediate steps to adopt one.

Henrico is required to complete a $1 million environmental improvement project by 2029 as part of a federal settlement among environmental groups, following decades of pollution violations connected to the county's wastewater collection system and the Henrico Water Reclamation Facility.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, James River Association and the Environmental Integrity Project have voiced concerns with the reclamation facility and the county’s wastewater infrastructure. Since the system began operating in 1989, it’s been cited with at least 40 environmental violations and been the focus of five different state consent orders, according to the environmental groups.

Since the 2021 settlement, the county’s addressed some sustainability issues through its Henrico Environmental Action Resource Team, a reforestation program and engaging with a regional program overseen by PlanRVA to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Frank Thornton, chairperson of the county’s Board of Supervisors, called the reservoir a creative solution to the region’s water needs.

“When we look at resources today and maybe how some of us are treating the planet, that's a good resource to have when you look towards the future,” he said.

Lyndon German covers Henrico and Hanover counties for VPM News.