by Su Clauson-Wicker
ABINGDON, VA — When Robbie Cornett started work at the Washington County Service Authority, all he knew about water service was “you turn the spigot to get water, then it goes out somewhere,” he says.
Now, 26 years later, Cornett is director of the authority and responsible for water and wastewater operations serving nearly 55,000 residents and seven industrial parks. The system consists of approximately 900 miles of water line and 70 miles of wastewater collection line as well as four treatment plants.
“After starting as a draftsman, I became fascinated with all the different aspects of this business,” he says. “I’ve worked in almost every department or group at the service authority, but the bulk of my time has been in designing, planning, and project management.”
Anderson & Associates provides engineering services for WCSA on an as-needed basis under an annual contract and is also involved in preparations to extend wastewater treatment service to the Interstate 81 Exit 13 area.
In another long term project, WCSA is systematically replacing 200 miles of aging 2-inch galvanized water pipe. The authority’s analysis indicated 86 percent of all system leaks and breaks could be traced to the galvanized piping.
“Leakages, combined with break repairs, in the galvanized pipe were costing us as much as $1.4 million a year,” says Cornett. “Much of it wouldn’t be capable of providing service in another 10 to 20 years.”
With Phase 2 partially completed, WCSA is already seeing savings in water and money. WCSA has replaced miles of 2-inch line with PVC and ductile iron pipes in Abingdon, Glade Spring, and areas near the City of Bristol. Larger pipes of at least six inches in diameter are required to fight fires and provide the most effective service. With the galvanized replacement project, WCSA has been able to increase its fire hydrants from 1,000 to more than 1,500.
WCSA also emphasizes quality and has received the Virginia Department of Health’s highest possible rankings in operations/performance excellence for water utilities for the sixth consecutive year. The service authority received its first gold award while under renovation and without a roof, Cornett says.
“This water is three times cleaner than the standards require,” says Cornett.
In his downtime, Cornett enjoys fishing and swimming in the clean water of Washington County with his wife, Carrie, and children, RuthAnne (10), Will (8), and SaraBeth (4). They also bicycle on the local trails, run, make day trips to Dollywood, and hunt deer and turkey.