By Debbie Adams
Tuesday, June 7, 2022, will be remembered as an historic day in the Town of Vinton. After years of debate and several months of negotiations, the Town of Vinton and the Western Virginia Water Authority signed an agreement recognizing the Authority’s ownership and operation of the town’s public water distribution and treatment system and the sanitary sewer collection system. The agreement takes effect on July 1, 2022.
A special called Town Council meeting at 2 p.m. was marked with an official signing ceremony and a ceremonial “valve turning” in Vinton Town Council Chambers.
Vinton Mayor Brad Grose and Town Manager Pete Peters welcomed dignitaries from Roanoke County and the Authority who had been involved at one point or another with the transfer and transition.
“We know that in everyone’s life there are special occasions that hold significant importance and meaning,” said Grose. “I believe the same applies to organizations and governments. Today is one of those meaningful events for the Town of Vinton and the Western Virginia Water Authority. The actions of this day will be long remembered as an important advancement in the history of Vinton.
“Vinton Town Council and the town staff have always worked relentlessly to provide a high quality of life for our citizens,” he continued. “We have diligently pursued valued services for our residents, businesses, and visitors by being inventive and resourceful. In order to maintain quality water service in an efficient manner, Vinton Town Council has decided that the time is right to transition ownership and operation of our water system to the Western Virginia Water Authority. For decades, the Town of Vinton has taken great pride in the development of our own water system, so this decision was not reached lightly and has been years in the making. The transfer of the water system will allow the town to better focus on community development. In addition, I am convinced that the transfer of the water system will strengthen the Western Virginia Water Authority and make it an even greater asset for the entire Roanoke Valley.
“We have recently celebrated many successes in the Town of Vinton because of the blessings of God, a hard-working talented staff, and an innovative Town Council,” Grose said. “Today is yet another example of what can be accomplished when we work together for the improvement of our community. I am truly grateful to be part of this great achievement and I am very thankful for all those who have worked so intensely to make this day a reality.”
Councilman Keith Liles noted that “times have changed, and this is the perfect time” for this agreement. “We are a town, not a water business.”
Vice Mayor Sabrina McCarty thanked the Public Works Department for their hard work and years of providing quality service for the citizens of Vinton. “This is the best decision for our citizens.”
Councilwoman Laurie Mullins echoed those sentiments and also expressed council’s desire to do the best for its citizens.
Councilman Mike Stovall spoke of the legacy this council and town staff is leaving with this transfer of ownership to the Authority and thanked all of those who “have their fingerprints on this.”
Former Vinton Mayor and WVWA board member Don Davis, long an advocate of the transfer of the town’s water and utility system to the Authority, praised a “goal come to fruition.” He believes the 5,200 customers of the Town of Vinton will benefit from the transfer and the investment in infrastructure the Authority will be able to make in an aging system. The agreement will allow the Authority to accrue a larger customer base and eliminate redundant expenses. He noted the “great team effort” in negotiations which began last September and looks forward to serving the needs of customers.
Jason Peters, who represents the Vinton Magisterial District on the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors, noted that the water issue has been a concern for a number of years. He believes strongly that for continued economic development in the area, a sustainable water system is paramount. He thanked the mayor and council for moving the negotiations and the process along so quickly. “You are doing the right thing for the citizens and giving them a security everyone should have.”
Mike McEvoy, executive director of the WVWA, thanked the town for “trusting us with your customers and system.” He promised the Authority will continue to deliver the quality services customers are used to and emphasized his belief that the utility system will become stronger as the entities work together with one vision. He especially thanked Town Manager Pete Peters and Assistant Town Manager Cody Sexton for the “incredible hours” they have put into the process and his own staff for making the Authority’s largest merger to date, its quickest merger as well.
Vinton Vice Mayor Sabrina McCarty read the proposed resolution which was then adopted unanimously by council:
“Whereas, Vinton Town Council and Administration desire to provide the best rate and infrastructure stability, service, and water quality for current and future customers and realize the best way to do that is through a regional approach, and
“Whereas, Vinton Town Council at their meeting on December 7, 2021, adopted Resolution No. 2468 certifying its intention to have formal discussions with the Authority regarding the Authority’s ownership and operation of the Town’s public water distribution and treatment system and sanitary sewer system, and
“Whereas, the Executive Director of the Authority and Staff, the Town Manager and Staff, along with their respective attorneys have negotiated a Transfer Agreement of the Town’s water and sanitary sewer system to the Authority, which has been presented at this meeting, and
“Whereas, the Western Virginia Water Authority at their meeting on April 21, 2022, adopted Resolution No. 445 approving the Transfer Agreement, Town Staff recommends that the Transfer Agreement be executed to formalize said agreement between the parties effective July 1, 2022.”
A joint statement from the Town of Vinton and the Authority reiterated the reasons for and advantages of the transfer of ownership and operations. “Working together regionally provides better rate stability, drought protection, infrastructure planning and maintenance for all customers. With this acquisition, customers in the Town of Vinton will receive a high level of service and an investment in water supply, treatment and delivery that is more readily available on the larger scale that the Authority can offer. The town will also be able to focus more of its time and funding on important community development projects such as transportation enhancements, improving the town’s walkability, and improving storm water management.
“The Authority’s goal is to strategically interconnect the Town of Vinton and Authority systems to provide water primarily from the Carvins Cove Water Treatment Facility which will take place in three phases. Studies, additional testing, and modeling of the Vinton system are already in progress to help make decisions about needed infrastructure improvements and the best combination of water sources to provide excellent water quality to our customers.”
Phase I of the Authority’s operational plan will take place in early June with the gradual supply of water from the Carvins Cove Facility to the Vinton Downtown Zone (described by Assistant Town Manager Cody Sexton as the area downhill from the Vinton War Memorial).
This phase of work will include additional monitoring and testing to help optimize operations to eventually increase the water supplied from Carvins Cove in the Vinton Downtown Zone.
The town and the Authority want customers to be aware that “the water supplied from Carvins Cove is a softer water source than the current supply, meaning it has less hardness which is the measure of dissolved minerals, largely calcium and magnesium, in water. Changes in the hardness of water supply can cause changes in the distribution network as prior deposits of calcium or magnesium can be dissolved more readily by a softer water supply. In the Phase I plan, the water from Carvins Cove Facility will be blended with existing wells to avoid a more dramatic shift in the hardness of the water supply.”
One significant element to the Authority’s operation of the water system involves the level of system flushing required. In the beginning stages of operations, the Authority expects that the flushing volume and frequency will likely be increased. When system flushing is increased, it has the potential to increase the risk for discolored (cloudy) water in the initial phases. While this can be frustrating for customers, this work will help ensure that the existing water distribution network is positioned to provide improved water quality in the long-term operations of the system.
So, while customers may see some cloudy water for a time as the calcium, magnesium, and other chemicals dissolve as the system is flushed, this will be temporary.
Sarah Baumgardner, director of Public Relations for the Authority, does not believe the temporary cloudiness of the water will impact its taste.
In addition, if you are a customer who uses a water softener, over time that softener system may no longer be needed.
Phase II (Parkway Zone) and Phase III (Hardy Road Zone) of the Authority transition plan will require significant infrastructure projects (installation of pumps) in order to serve these areas with Carvins Cove water. Water from existing wells within the town will continue to provide drinking water for these customers.
As for wastewater treatment, the joint statement from the Authority and the town says, “Sanitary sewer for town customers is currently transported through pipes to the Roanoke Regional Water Pollution Control Plant for treatment. Customers will continue to receive the same high level of service provided by this facility, and the sewer pipe infrastructure in the town will be maintained by the Authority.”
Customers in the Town of Vinton will transition to billing by the Western Virginia Water Authority with the July bill and will receive monthly bills based on the prior month’s consumption (the town currently bills customers every two months). The last bill to be paid to the Town of Vinton is due June 18. After that, bills will be issued by and paid to the Authority
The Authority currently meets the drinking water and sanitary sewer needs of a regional population of over 155,000 in the City of Roanoke and the Counties of Roanoke, Franklin and Botetourt. The addition of the approximately 5,200 Town of Vinton customers will provide an even larger base in which to spread the organization’s operational and capital expenses – so there is no anticipation of rate increases due to the transfer.
The Western Virginia Water Authority is fully funded by ratepayers. Having a larger base of customers allows the per customer operational and capital expense of maintaining and enhancing the utility system to be minimized. This multijurisdictional model supports economic development in the valley through high quality and quantity of water, sewage treatment capacity and competitive rate structures.