Treatment Plants

Treatment Plant - Aerial Photograph

HRSD operates nine major award-winning treatment plants in Hampton Roads and four smaller plants on the Middle Peninsula with a combined capacity of 249 million gallons per day (MGD).

Wastewater flows from municipal piped systems to HRSD’s interceptor system of pipes and pump stations to our treatment plants. Highly skilled and trained staff operate and maintain the processes and equipment in our treatment plants, meeting the technological and regulatory challenges of the wastewater industry.

HRSD is recognized as a leader in the industry, with an impressive record of environmental permit compliance. HRSD must comply with Virginia Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (VPDES) permit limitations. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality issues the permit, which is reviewed, revised (if necessary), and reissued every 5 years.

Innovation As Well As Excellence

One of HRSD’s noteworthy contributions to the wastewater industry was the innovative Virginia Initiative Process, which was used at both the Virginia Initiative Treatment Plant (Norfolk) and Nansemond Treatment Plant (Suffolk). In the 1980's HRSD and the engineering firm CH2M Hill developed and patented this technology, offered free of charge to other wastewater agencies. The process, a type of biological nutrient removal, is an environmentally sound technique that eliminates much of the nitrogen and phosphorus from wastewater.

Meeting the Needs of Small Communities

Our reputation for not only meeting but exceeding environmental regulations prompted the Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission to ask HRSD to serve the major population centers of the area. Protecting the quality of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries is critical to the livelihood and recreational activities of these small communities. HRSD agreed to operate and maintain four treatment plants, 21 pump stations, and the collection systems. We initiated the extensive improvements needed to meet safety regulations, comply with regulatory requirements, and ensure responsive, reliable customer service.

Stepping in to Help the Environment

HRSD has agreed, in some cases, to assume responsibility for operating small treatment facilities in our service area. In 2001, Chesapeake turned over the Hickory Plant, which treats wastewater from four public schools. The design capacity is 43,000 gallons per day. HRSD operated the facility until flow could be diverted into our interceptor system after the construction of the South Battlefield Boulevard pipeline. HRSD also operated a small package plant that was experiencing difficulties, Queen Anne’s Court in Isle of Wight County, until a pump station was built to transfer the flow to our lines.


The Treatment Process

Each of HRSD’s 13 treatment plants is unique.  While the size and layout of the pumps, pipelines and tanks is different, each plant is designed to speed up the process by which water cleanses itself.  What happens at a treatment plant is similar to what occurs naturally in a river, lake or stream.  This section provides an overview of how our facilities clean wastewater every day for a better Bay.

Wastewater typically is treated in two basic stages known as primary and secondary treatment. In some cases, advanced treatment is required. During primary treatment, solids are screened and settled out of the wastewater. In secondary treatment, bacteria and other small organisms consume the waste and help clean the water. Sometimes, these stages are combined into one operation.

Primary Treatment
When wastewater enters the treatment plant, it flows through a screen that removes large floating objects such as trash, sticks and rags. The wastewater then typically flows to a grit chamber anda sedimentation tank. These devices slow the flow of the water and allow sand, coffee grounds, egg shells, small stones, human and animal waste solids and other small particles to settle to the bottom.

Secondary Treatment
Secondary treatment facilities speed up the processes of nature, allowing microorganisms (bacteria and other organisms) to remove 80-90 percent of the “organic matter” – or human, animal and plant waste. The most commonly used secondary treatment technique in HRSD plants is the activated sludge process.

An activated sludge process speeds up the work of the microorganisms by bringing air and sludge into close contact with the wastewater in an aeration tank. Over several hours, the organic matter is broken down into harmless by-products.

After the activated sludge process, the partially treated wastewater flows to another sedimentation tank to settle out any excess microorganisms.

Tertiary Treatment
Additional wastewater treatment processes are required to remove additional pollutants, such as the nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus.  If a treatment facility is to remove 90 percent of the nutrients in the influent (an anticipated requirement for some HRSD facilities), it is necessary to install additional processes that use microorganisms that differ from those in secondary treatment, use additional chemicals and add an effluent filtration system.  This significantly increases plant construction and operation costs.

To keep heavy metals, chemical compounds and toxic substances from entering our system, industries that discharge to the sewer are required to pretreat their waste to remove pollutants before they reach the HRSD’s treatment plants.

Disinfection: Final Step Before Discharge
The final step of treatment is disinfection, usually with chlorine. Chlorination will kill more than 99 percent of harmful bacteria. HRSD facilities remove excess chlorine before discharging the cleaned water.

Laboratory Monitoring Ensures Waterways Are Protected
The final treated wastewater must meet strict state and federal permit requirements established under the Clean Water Act. These requirements are designed to protect both human health and aquatic life in our waterways. Laboratory workers monitor water quality frequently at the wastewater treatment plant, to make sure it meets permit limits.

Solids Handling
Various types of solids are removed as wastewater flows through a treatment plant.  The untreated or unstabilized solids are commonly known as sludge.  Stabilized solids are called “biosolids.”  Higher degrees of treatment typically produce larger volumes of solids.  Processes that condition, thicken, stabilize and dewater the material are used to facilitate disposal or recycling of the solids.  At the end of the process, the concentrated solids can be placed in landfills, incinerated, applied to land or composted for use as a soil conditioner.  HRSD uses all of these methods to manage its biosolids.

Sources: How Wastewater Treatment Works ... The Basics, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Ma 1998 (EPA 833-F-98-002)
  Clean Water for Today: What is Wastewater Treatment?, Water Environment Federation


Water Reuse

Typically, wastewater is treated and returned to the local waterways. Rather than dispose of highly treated effluent, HRSD encourages reclaiming this resource through additional treatment processes, where environmentally and economically justified, to replace potable water now meeting nonpotable demands (e.g., landscape irrigation and many industrial uses). Water reclamation (also called water reuse) maximizes the existing drinking water supply and results in more effective stewardship of precious water resources.


HRSD © 2013
Main Office: 1434 Air Rail Avenue,

Virginia Beach, VA 23455
or P.O. Box 5911, Virginia Beach VA 23471-0911 bluespacer

Phone: 757.460.2261