Henrico County Department of Public Utilities: Actively Enhancing Quality of Life

The Henrico County Department of Public Utilities (Henrico DPU) was established in 1956 to serve a political subdivision of Virginia whose history dates back to 1611, when the 400-year-old county got its start as the Citie of Henricus, the second English settlement in Virginia. Henrico has existed as a distinct jurisdiction since 1634, when the English crown established it as Henrico Shire, one of the eight original shires of the Virginia Colony.

Today the Henrico DPU takes pride in staying ahead of the curve in technology, infrastructural development and customer service, because over 300,000 people rely on the Henrico DPU for water and wastewater service and treatment and solid waste service. The Henrico DPU team of 376 professionals strives not only to meet federal and state regulations, but also to exceed standards in the service of assuring a healthier community all around.

The Henrico DPU has grown primarily by expanding to meet the anticipated needs of its community. As Henrico County has shifted from an agricultural to an urban community, the Henrico DPU has kept pace, providing water and sewage piping, drinking water supply, wastewater treatment and streetlight districts, as well as solid waste refuse and recycling collections for residential customers. Despite the economic downturn, the Henrico DPU is undertaking a variety of capital improvement projects and is implementing operational enhancements such as an Automated Meter Reading system and modern automated trash collection vehicles to prepare for the future.

“There is great national concern over the future of this country’s utility infrastructure, and we have responded with a targeted approach to our own infrastructure to maximize its life cycle and stay ahead of the curve,” expands Arthur Petrini, P.E., director of the Henrico DPU.

Petrini is a graduate of the University of Connecticut with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Civil Engineering, a Master of Science Degree in Environmental Engineering and an Associates Degree in Business Management from Mitchell College, as well as a registered Virginia Professional Engineer. He holds memberships in the Water Environment Federation, the Virginia Water Environment Association, the American Water Works Association (AWWA), the Virginia section-AWWA and the Solid Waste Association of North America, all of which inform the approaches of the Henrico DPU, which has a primary goal of strengthening and enhancing infrastructure.

In 2011 the Henrico DPU completed a $20 million upgrade of its 75 million gallon-per-day Water Reclamation Facility. This most recent upgrade was the last phase of a $100 million effort to ensure compliance with the nutrient standards recently implemented to restore the natural balance of the James River and the Chesapeake Bay.

Thinking Decades Ahead

Since the 1970s biological nutrient levels and increased sediments in the Chesapeake Bay have become so unbalanced that the region has witnessed massive fish kills and reduced populations of oysters and blue crabs. Agricultural runoff and pollution have resulted in hypoxic water conditions, essentially dead zones where the water is so depleted of oxygen that normal aquatic life is not sustainable. Now groups such as the Henrico DPU are being proactive to correct the neglect of the past and safeguard clean natural resources.

“President Obama, through Executive Order 13508, has officially designated the Chesapeake Bay as a national treasure, and we’re doing our part to ensure the future of the Chesapeake watershed,” states Petrini. The new Enhanced Nutrient Removal (ENR) system at the Water Reclamation Facility is designed to meet a 5 mg/L nitrogen limit and a 0.5 mg/L phosphorus limit.

The Henrico DPU has begun preliminary planning and design of the Cobbs Creek Reservoir, a new $280 million water reservoir that has been a decade in the making. In 2002, Virginia, including Henrico County, witnessed record drought conditions that resulted in critically low groundwater and river levels and strict statewide water restrictions. In response, the Henrico DPU partnered with Cumberland and Powhatan counties to come up with a feasible, environmentally friendly solution to future water-supply needs. A unique feature of the reservoir will be a release of water into the James River during low flow conditions. The reservoir engineering team is lead by Malcolm Pirnie, the water division of the international environmental consultancy, design, engineering and management company ARCADIS.

“The Cobbs Creek Reservoir, owned and operated by Henrico DPU, will be a critical resource to the region in the coming years and with the political cooperation of the three localities and the aid of ARCADIS/Malcolm Pirnie, we have been able to develop a solution that prepares not 10 years ahead for our needs, but 50 and 60 years ahead,” adds Petrini.

Henrico DPU has scaled up its efforts to replace much of its existing water and sewer lines to enhance sustainability and quality of life by minimizing water service interruptions and sewer overflows. With the addition of the 1,100-acre Cobbs Creek Reservoir and the state-of–the-art 80 million gallon-per-day Water Treatment Facility that opened in 2004, Henrico DPU has a secure future water supply and Henrico County is in a position to attract residential and economic growth.

Small Adjustments

Even with its implementation of informed strategies, the Henrico DPU hasn’t been entirely untouched by the economic downturn. Instead of reducing essential services, however, the team has focused on scaling back some previously aggressive maintenance programs until additional funding becomes available.

“The good news is that our customer base is still growing, but we have had to spread out our original maintenance targets over several years,” expands Petrini.

In the coming years the Henrico DPU team will be working hard to stay on top of day-to-day services – from solid refuse collection to streetlight service and water/wastewater treatment operations. Behind the scenes, the Henrico DPU will be thinking decades ahead and preparing for the community’s future growth throughout any economic climate. Proud to service one of the oldest counties in the country, the Henrico County Department of Public Utilities continues providing essential public services, safe drinking water and the foundation for a healthy, happy community.