CHESAPEAKE, Va. — New health advisory signs were posted in the area of Great Bridge Lock in Chesapeake on Wednesday.
Officials with the local health department are alerting any potential fishers, kayakers, swimmers and the like to stay away from recreational activities involving water.
Hampton Roads Sanitation District (HRSD) Director of Communications Leila Rice said a tug boat had been moving a dredge at the locks on Friday. That afternoon, a force main break would lead to a massive sewage spill.
It was estimated at 2.5 million gallons of wastewater released, according to Rice.
“I’m off of work, so I thought I’d come out and enjoy the weather,” said William Shumaker, of Chesapeake. However, for now, his plans for catch-and-release fishing at Great Bridge Lock are put on hold.
Shumaker told 13News Now he was not aware of the wastewater spill affecting a section of the Elizabeth River.
“Had no idea,” he said. “There should be flyers, emails, something sent out to the community to let everybody know.”
The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VDEQ) also created a webpage dedicated to the spill response. It includes a map of the affected area.
In an updated news release sent Wednesday, Rice said tug boat workers reported a dredge stake became stuck on something underwater at approximately 1 p.m.
She said it was at approximately 5 p.m. when HRSD crews learned something had gone wrong.
“We received a call from the City of Chesapeake that they noticed there was some bubbling, wastewater in the Great Bridge Lock, in the canal area,” said Rice.
Rice, however, reassured the community that drinking water for residents remains safe because it is serviced separately.
“From fish to the birds, whatever be, you can’t have that, especially at that volume,” said Shumaker, who expressed concern about the wildlife.
Rice said a force main broke and crews closed the valve within a couple of hours.
“We are still assessing the damage. We need to be able to get to it to assess the damage, and we’re working on determining a repair plan,” she added.
Meanwhile, water testing and sampling are happening on a daily basis.
“We’re seeing that those bacteria levels have dropped every day since the incident which is a good sign. For recovery efforts, there’s not much we can recover. The best practice here is to really let it naturally attenuate with wave, wind, tide and rain,” said Julie Laferriere, water compliance manager for the VDEQ Tidewater office.
She advised people to heed the local warnings and avoid contact with water in the locks.
“If your skin does come into contact with the water, to wash it with soap and water,” said Laferriere.
At this time, it is not yet clear when bacteria levels in the area of Great Bridge Lock will get back to normal.