In Southwest Virginia, aging wastewater systems pose big problems for cash-strapped communities

Oct 19, 2020

Southwest Virginians have long looked beneath the surface of the rugged coalfield region for wealth and opportunity. But just below the asphalt and concrete of the communities that dot its ridges and valleys, the area’s aging and dilapidated wastewater systems are draining the coffers of localities already strapped for cash.

Across Virginia, water and wastewater systems are some of the biggest headaches for rural towns and counties. Small populations mean fewer customers to pay for repairs, while less industry and economic activity mean declining tax bases.

Yet even against this backdrop, Southwest Virginia stands out. The rocky, mountainous topography poses special — and expensive — engineering challenges and local governments have unusually limited financial resources to deal with them. The barriers localities in the region face are daunting. According to estimates by the Appalachian Regional Commission’s Virginia program, population has fallen by 2 to 3 percent since 2010, the workforce is rapidly aging and the median household income is only about 65 percent of the state average.

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