AMHERST, VA. – When a recent storm ripped across our region, fallen trees and powerlines prevented the Town of Amherst from producing water for two days.
“We had water, but we were without the ability to replace what people were using at the time,” said Amherst Town Manager Sara McGuffin.
McGuffin said the problem was at the nearby source, the Buffalo River, where there’s no emergency generator to pump additional water to the treatment plant.
The plant holds about two million gallons, and we’re told the town uses roughly 30,000 gallons each day.
“Even if we had a fire event, we would have had enough pressure; but if it had gone another two days, we would’ve started getting very worried,” said McGuffin.
As a precaution, the town asked its nearly 2,000 customers to conserve water for about three days.
McGuffin said it’s an incident they experience almost once a year. So why has it taken this long to fix?
“There hadn’t been the push from [Virginia’s Department of Health] on some of the other facility sides until more recently, and so now there are better funding opportunities,” said McGuffin.
They’re currently undergoing a $4 million project to renovate the treatment plant, which includes a generator for the pump station, electrical work and a larger test lab.
McGuffin said a quarter of the project is grant-funded, on top of a 30-year loan, and more than one million dollars in savings.
The plan does not require more money from taxpayers.
“We have saved for this project, and so our existing rate structure will cover this debt,” said McGuffin.
Town leaders made the proposal to VDH in 2019, and construction started in 2020. Due to COVID-19 and supply chain issues, it’s scheduled to be completed in 2023.
The new system would allow the plant to preserve water for almost one week.
“Just like at home, we all need to be thinking about how to prepare for emergencies. With our utilities, we need to be doing the same thing,” said McGuffin.