CHESAPEAKE, Va. — Contractors and engineers with the Hampton Roads Sanitation District (HRSD) determined an underwater sewage pipe suffered extensive damage when it was hit by a towed dredge earlier in the month, resulting in the release of roughly 2.5 million gallons of sewage into local waterways.
"Never had to do a repair like this," Jeff Scarano, the chief of design and construction for special projects with HRSD, told 13News Now.
The incident happened on March 10 near the Great Bridge Lock in Chesapeake, around the southern branch of the Elizabeth River. Less than two weeks later, dive teams deployed underwater to see the extent of the damage to the 20-inch cast iron pipe and figure out how to get it fixed and back up and running again.
"Normally with a break, you can dig it up, look at it very quickly... but this is underwater which is why we need divers. There will be little to no visibility. Everything today will be from touch," Scarano said.
HRSD said the divers on Wednesday found a seven-foot break in the pipe "where it appeared to have been crushed by an external impact."
Officials said the damage was so severe that it would require a full replacement of the pipe in the area.
According to the multi-agency website leading the charge in the response, there is not yet an observed impact on local wildlife or fish.
Still, the Chesapeake Health Department issued a health advisory that lasts until Saturday, March 25, asking residents to avoid recreational activities like fishing, kayaking, and swimming around the waters until then.
HRSD said it is developing a work plan to replace the pipe. In the meantime, valves have closed it off to prevent any further sewage spills.
“This line isn’t in place right now, so other lines are carrying the sewage right now, so there is no longer [an environmental] impact right now," Scarano said.