25122 Regal Drive

Abingdon, VA 24211

Phone

1-276-628-7151

Who is the Washington County Service Authority?


Our History

Much of WCSA’s water distribution system was built more than 60 years ago under President Franklin Roosevelt’s WPA projects during the Depression. Another significant portion of WCSA’s water lines were laid by private water companies or citizens working together to provide their communities with a reliable source for household water and indoor plumbing. The forerunner of WCSA, the Washington County Sanitary District (WCSD), was created during the Depression. The sanitary district employed many jobless young men to lay water and sewer lines that served the Abingdon area with water drawn from Taylors Valley. Some of these cast iron lines are still in use in WCSA’s main distribution system.

In 1960, WCSD purchased Legard Water Company, which provided water to Damascus. The Washington County Service Authority was formed in 1976 when the Washington County Sanitary District No. 1 merged with two private water companies: Goodson Kinderhook Water Authority, which included Bristol and southern Washington County, and the Manhaim Water Company, which served the area between Glade Spring and Saltville.

Between 1960 and 1976, when the Washington County Sanitary District became the Washington County Service Authority, it acquired several private water companies, expanding its service area to include Bristol, southern Washington County, Damascus, Mendota, and the area between Glade Spring and Saltville.

WCSA Timeline

1910 – Abingdon Water Authority provides water service to Abingdon through wooden transmission lines.
1938 – Washington County Sanitary District No. 1 is formed as part of President Roosevelt’s WPA Plan.
1953 – Goodson Kinderhook Water Authority, a private water company, is created to provide water service to Bristol and southern Washington County.
1960 – WCSD purchases Legard Water Company, a private water company that provides Damascus with water service.
1960 – Manhaim Water Company is created to serve the area between Glade Spring and Saltville.
1976 – Washington County Service Authority is formed by the consolidation of WCSD No. 1, GKWA, and Manhaim Water Company.
1977 – The new Washington County Drinking Water Plant on the Middle Fork of the Holston River is put into operation as the main source of WCSA’s drinking water.
1979 – WCSA has 12,554 water customers.

Water Service

One difficulty with serving a rural community is the distance water must travel to reach the customer. WCSA’s distribution system covers approximately 300 square miles, with 900 miles of pipeline. With more than 20,900 customers, WCSA must maintain almost 230 feet of pipeline per customer. Furthermore, a majority of the pipeline in WCSA’s system was installed long ago in piecemeal fashion with inadequate planning or design for future growth. Thus, we have a system with pipe sizes ranging from one-half inch to 24 inches in diameter and pipe materials of galvanized steel, cast iron, ductile iron, asbestos cement, PVC and stainless steel.

Another challenge with serving customers in a mountainous region is the change in elevation encountered within the service area. Washington County’s lowest elevation point is 1,698 feet above sea level, and its highest is 5,520 feet above sea level – a vertical range of 3,822 feet. Within the water system itself, the elevation change from the lowest to highest point is 1,147 feet, which translates to 493 psi. The maximum normal operating system pressure is 250 psi. Therefore, WCSA must operate and maintain more than 20 pressure-reducing valves. Optimum operating pressures for household use is 50 psi. The distribution system has 26 water-pumping stations, 24 water storage tanks and more than 40 pressure zones.

The capacity of WCSA-owned water treatment facilities is 14 million gallons per day. WCSA owns and operates one membrane filtration plant, one conventional surface water treatment plant, one spring and one well.  Additionally, WCSA purchases water from two different utilities. In total, WCSA’s average distribution of water for 2012 was approximately 7 million gallons per day.

Though extending public water to unserved communities is a top priority, WCSA has a mature water system that demands the majority of our resources. Without properly caring for the existing system, we would be unable to extend water service. Our motto is to provide the highest quality drinking water at the lowest possible cost.

 

Sewer Service

The year 1993 marked the genesis of our current sewer system; however, much of our sewer system (through acquisition) dates back to the mid-1970s. We face a number of the same challenges with sewer service as we do with water. WCSA’s collection system covers approximately 25 square miles and is comprised of 68 miles of pipeline (gravity and force main). WCSA currently has more than 2,000 connections and therefore must maintain almost 180 feet of pipeline per customer. Elevation changes encount-ered within the service area require 26 pump stations.

For many reasons, sewer is more expensive than water. The capital cost for its installation is more because it must be installed on grade and often must be deeper than water lines. Collection systems requiring pump stations also require greater cost for electricity and telephone service (for monitoring purposes) and operator attendance to ensure there are no operational problems that could lead to overflows. Moreover, sewer pumps have a shorter service life than water due to their operating environment. Finally, treatment is more expensive due to the product we are treating and the quality being returned to the environment.

WCSA-owned source capacity is 2.22 million gallons per day. WCSA owns and operates two extended, aeration-activated sludge (biological) treatment facilities. Additionally, WCSA maintains conveyance and treatment agreements with two different utilities. In total, WCSA’s average collection of sewer for 2012 was approximately 0.45 million gallons per day. Our motto is to return the highest quality water to the environment at the lowest possible cost.

WCSA’s Revenues and Expenses

 

Revenues

WCSA is almost exclusively funded through the sale of its water and sewer services (connection and monthly user fees). Other than an occasional grant, WCSA receives no outside financial support. WCSA often obtains low-interest loans from governmental agencies such as Rural Development or the Virginia Department of Health, but these loans must be repaid with money earned through the sale of services by WCSA. Water and sewer connection and monthly user fees (revenues) pay all WCSA expenses.

Expenses

WCSA expenses (revenue requirements) can be placed under two headings: (1) growth-related and (2) non-growth-related. These revenue requirements are outlined as follows:

Growth-related revenue requirements are capital projects that add capacity to the water and sewer system or service extensions. These projects facilitate residential, commercial and industrial growth in Washington County.

Non-growth-related revenue requirements are capital projects related to replacement of the existing water and sewer systems and the operation and maintenance of the existing water and sewer system. The replacement, operation and maintenance of the water and sewer systems ensure that existing customers’ needs are met.

Our annual operating budget is approximately $10 million. For this reason, WCSA commits itself to continuous improvement. This not only involves regular internal analysis of cost-saving measures, but periodically submitting ourselves to review by outside firms to identify measures that will save money but not compromise quality.

Capital Projects

Since 1996, WCSA has completed or is working on more than 200 projects costing $95.94 million. Of the $95.94 million, approximately $59.8 million has been growth related, and $36.1 million has been non-growth related. From 1996 to 2006, WCSA completed $37.17 million worth of capital projects. From 2007 to October 2012 (six years), WCSA began or completed $58.77 million in capital projects, of which $8.19 million was in grant and the remaining $50.58 million was loan.

Rates

How WCSA is funded, capital projects, operation and maintenance all come together in our rates, fees and charges (what we charge for the services we provide). There are different ways to structure rates. For example, a utility with little water/sewer capacity, and limited ability to obtain more, may implement rates to compel water conservation. This is not the WCSA method.

Another structure is what we think of as the traditional model, where essentially all of the revenue requirements are paid for by way of monthly user fees and not through connection fees. This model is much like paying taxes: Everyone pays taxes but not everyone consumes all the services for which our tax dollars are used. This approach has been around for many years. This is not the WCSA method.

A different rate structure is one that allocates cost only to those who are consuming the services. For example, if you are a current customer, you pay only for the cost to operate, maintain and replace the existing system (non-growth cost). If you are not an existing customer but wish to purchase a new water/sewer connection, then you pay for the cost to expand the system comparable with the volume you plan to use. This approach began in the 1970s and has grown in popularity because it allocates costs to those who are consuming the services, rather than one group subsidizing another, and it provides financial stability. Additionally, it keeps monthly user rates lower. To keep monthly user fees low, to ensure revenue is available for improvement projects and to accomplish general equity, WCSA’s rate structure relies more on this philosophy than on the traditional model. Currently, 5 percent of your monthly water and 25 percent of your sewer bill are related to growth-related costs. There are other methodologies and variations, but WCSA has operated on the philosophy that a blend of the traditional and growth-paying-for-growth approach is best for WCSA.

 

Operation and Maintenance

The operation and maintenance of a large, aging water and emerging sewer system across rolling-to-steep topography result in significant cost. Combined, WCSA has six treatment facilities (four water, two sewer), four water and two sewer purchase/sales contracts, and 52  (26 water, 26 sewer) pumping stations – all of which operate 24 hours per day, seven days a week, 365 days per year.

More than 150 electric motors, ranging in size from one to 600 horsepower, must be operated to treat, distribute and convey water and sewer daily. A variety of chemicals are used in water and sewer treatment, such as chlorine and fluoride, to name a few. Making sure pumps run when they are supposed to, and adding the proper variety and amount of chemicals are of utmost importance.

All operation and maintenance work requires tools and equipment. Motor, pump and process equipment requires maintenance just like our automobiles, except this is more like an airplane in that we do not want a malfunction to result in a service interruption or impure water. So in addition to vehicles, dump trucks, trailers, backhoes and compressors, we must retain highly skilled personnel to ensure that everything is done properly and efficiently.

A team of 54 water and sewer operators, maintenance, meter distribution and collection personnel ensure that everything operates smoothly. If there is a service interruption due to a line break or problem at one of our treatment facilities, it is repaired as quickly as possible.

Additionally, 19 administrative personnel ensure that the business side of things is operating smoothly. They oversee billing, collections, engineering, human resources, procurement and the like.

Regulations

WCSA is regulated by many different agencies and statutes. The two primary agencies are the Virginia Department of Health Office of Drinking Water Programs (water) and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (sewer). Permits are issued by these agencies that direct us to statewide regulations in general, and then set forth specific regulations unique to the environment (such as the stream from which we withdraw or to which we discharge) and the type of facility we operate. Much of what we do revolves around meeting or exceeding these and other regulations.