It was a small ceremony. Inconsequential to most, but it marked a milestone in the Town of Buchanan’s history and livelihood.
Friday afternoon, Mayor Larry Hall and former Mayor Tom Middlecamp were joined by a small group representing the town, Bank of Botetourt and Engineering Concepts Inc. at the corner of Lowe and Main Streets with the US 11 bridge over the James River in the background.
The bridge— rather the stainless steel waterline that runs under the bridge— gave the only clue to the ceremony that marked the completion of what has been a combined $8.5 million water project for the town.
That water line under the bridge is essentially the only visible evidence that the town now has what Hall called “the best water system in the state.”
New schools, new libraries, new parks, new industry, new breweries, new businesses are recognized with ceremonies— but new water systems just don’t have the glamour despite how important they are to a community.
In Buchanan’s case, the tempest came on April Fool’s Day 2009. Stepped up water testing showed one of the town’s wells was highly likely under the influence of surface water infiltration and many learned about a new organism— cryptosporidium. Town water customers also learned to deal with the boil water advisory issued by the Virginia Department of Health.
In the eight years since, the Town of Buchanan built a state-of-the-art water filtration plant, replaced over 5 miles of water line that ranges from 4” to 10” diameter, installed more than 40 new fire hydrants, installed 580 new residential water meters and over 100 water valves.
The project also included interconnecting the water system so if one part goes down another part can pick up the slack. And it includes replacing an outdated reservoir and placing connections at the town wells so a new portable generator can be hooked in that will allow the town to keep the water system running if there are power failures in town.
It took about a year to get the filtration plant built under Middlecamp’s guidance. The $1.4 million plant went online in the summer of 2010 and the boil water advisory was lifted. Middlecamp noted the town received a grant from the Health Department that covered 75 percent of the cost of the new plant.
But the town’s aged water lines were costing thousands of gallons of water a month and thousands of dollars in repairs.
Middlecamp got things rolling for the town to try to come up with the money to replace the aging lines that dated to before the middle of the last century.
But an audit found problems in the town office, and that nearly cost the town the financial assistance it would need for such a major overhaul in a town of just 1,200.
The town treasurer was found guilty of embezzling money, and with guidance from auditors, Middlecamp and Town Council began putting new procedures in place to assure oversight that would prevent another incident like that.
In 2012, Middlecamp asked Hall to run for mayor and he agreed, and assumed the job on January 1, 2013 of moving forward with the applications for USDA Rural Development and Health Department funding to upgrade the water system.
That fall, the contractor, E.C. Pace began laying new water lines on Main Street as part of the $7.1 million project to upgrade the water lines— 60 percent of the cost is covered by grant funds and the town used a USDA Rural Development loan for the rest.
“We still have to pay a large portion back,” Hall said, but noted the town’s water system has gone from losing 70 percent of its water to about 30 percent. “We hope to get that down to 25 percent,” Hall said, noting that’s a very good water loss ratio.
The new water meters have cut the amount of time and cost of reading meters as well. The touch read meters “save us countless work hours on reading meters and preparing water bills,” Hall said since town crews don’t have to open water meter covers and manually read the meters any longer, then transfer those readings for billing.
“Our utility is first class right now,” Hall said, noting there are still some things to do.
“It’s a great system for businesses and residents who’d like to move in.”
Hall and Middlecamp acknowledged the help the town received from USDA Rural Development, the Health Department, Bank of Botetourt that provided bridge loans for the filtration plant and water system upgrade, Engineering Concepts engineers Mike Lynch and Bobby Wampler, E.C. Pace, Petrus that runs the town’s water system, the town maintenance crew and office staff, Del. Terry Austin, Town Council and the citizens of the town and water customers.
Hall said he appreciated that the Health Department “looked out for our community. It was a hardship on our citizens, but we’re better off from it.”