One of the signifying marks of a “third-world country” is an inability to maintain basic standards of hygiene. While no city in America is guilt-free of this, it is the level and pattern of such behavior that distinguished impoverished nations from wealthier ones. In the US, where poverty has been growing and infrastructure slowly disintegrating, however, this problem has become more apparent in various ways. The Virginia city and capitol of Richmond is experiencing this phenomenon as according to recent reports, raw sewage in mass has been allowed to flow into a local river.
In the shadow of Interstate 95 where Richmonders fish, and just steps from where kayakers pull out of the James River, a mix of raw sewage and storm water runoff sometimes pours into the river when it rains.
“Yeah, really gross,” James River Association volunteer Annie Miller said when looking at video of the untreated water near the 14th Street Bridge.
About five years ago,researchers from Virginia Tech snapped pictures that showed condoms, sanitary pads, and raw sewage found in the bellies of catfish caught in the James River.
Catfish from the James and other Virginia rivers are harvested and sold at grocery stores.
Richmond has 25 spots where untreated feces and storm water flows in the James when heavy rain overwhelms the sewer system.
“That’s pretty disgusting is what that is,” Michael Fortune, who works with Boy Scouts every summer on the river, said.
‘”We noticed splotches, quarter-sized splotches on the river, and when paddling through it you could smell the sewage smell too,” Fortune said about a visit to the river on Hatchers Island near Henricus Park.
Between 2014 and 2018, more than 11 billion gallons of untreated waste water went into the James River, according to Combined Sewer System records from the city.
In 2018, a particularly wet year, more than 3.3 billion gallons flooded into the James in Richmond.
“We’re not a third world country.”
“We’re not a third world country,” State Senator Richard Stuart (R – Fredericksburg) said. “To me that was just unconscionable.”
Senator Stuart doesn’t represent Richmond in the General Assembly, but he was raised in the Northern Neck.
“Growing up in that area you have a special appreciation for our natural resources,” he said.
Stuart is on a mission to make the three cities that send raw sewage into rivers, Alexandria, Lynchburg, and Richmond, to clean up their acts. (source)