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Sewage overflows from Hurricane Sandy analyzed

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RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) – Six months ago, Hurricane Sandy caused a historic disaster with lingering impacts. It was a nasty system for a variety of devastating reasons, including the loss of life, but one of them is literally nasty.

A new Climate Central analysis of spilled sewage as a direct result of Sandy shows the large and far-reaching impact, including here in Virginia.

The report states, “Six months after Sandy, data from the eight hardest hit states shows that 11 billion gallons of untreated and partially treated sewage flowed into rivers, bays, canals, and in some cases, city streets, largely as a result of record storm-surge flooding that swamped the region’s major sewage treatment facilities.”

You could probably guess the two hardest-hit sewage overflow locations are the same as where Sandy made landfall – in New Jersey and New York.


The majority of those plants were in prime locations for their purpose: low-lying areas near water. The goal is to treat sewage so that it can be safely discarded into waterways. But when the water surges in from a storm, the plants can fail. As climate scientists expect sea levels to rise in coming decades as the water warms, these low-lying treatment plants are especially vulnerable to coastal flooding and storm surge flooding. In addition, more intense storms with heavier rainfall (more moisture in the atmosphere to pour down) can also cause failure.


Although Virginia is one of the lesser states that released sewage, we are downstream from Washington D.C. and Maryland’s watersheds into our Chesapeake Bay. They’re ranked in the third and fourth spots for Sandy-caused sewage spills.

But our two spills originating in Virginia were both untreated sewage, which is the worst kind. This nastiness eventually entered rivers, streams and the ocean.  When a sewer main in Suffolk broke (equipment failure), 18,285,000 gallons of untreated sewage spilled from the Suffolk Pump Station into Shingle Creek, which is just ten miles north of the mouth of the James River. Because of Sandy’s heavy rainfall, the Front Royal Waste Water Treatment Plant expelled 5,261,000 gallons of untreated sewage into a creek that feeds into the Shenandoah River.

The majority, though, of Sandy’s sewage impact came from storm surge flooding to our north. New York and New Jersey combined made up more than 94 percent of the Sandy-caused sewage overflows.


Climate Central says, “The last known Sandy-related sewage overflow took place in January 2013.”

CLICK HERE to read the full report.