After more than 15 years of expanding public water throughout the region, Western Virginia Water Authority Executive Director Gary Robertson retired earlier this year.
The water authority was created in 2004 when Roanoke County and the City of Roanoke agreed to collaborate on water and sewer services. Robertson, then utilities director for Roanoke County, shared the WVWA’s executive director position with Michael McEvoy, utilities director for the City of Roanoke. Both agreed to serve as directors to help ease the transition of the two utilities departments into one.
Robertson said he is proud to have played a role in the partnership. “It was something nobody thought would ever happen,” he said. “It has been a really great experience.”
Formed as a regional water authority, Robertson and McEvoy have collaborated to expand water services from Roanoke into neighboring counties, growing to more than 60,000 customers. Franklin County joined the water authority in 2009 and Botetourt County joined in 2015.
Franklin County water service had only 200 customers before joining the WVWA. Today, more than 4,000 homes in the county use public water.
Robertson said Franklin County originally came to the WVWA for help in expanding its water service along U.S. 220 to the intersection of Wirtz Road and U.S. 220 commonly known as Plateau Plaza. WVWA’s water line ended in the Clearbrook area in Roanoke County before work began on the extension in 2007.
McEvoy praised Robertson’s work to bring Franklin County into the water authority. “Gary deserves all the credit for it,” he said.
In addition to that growth, WVWA also helped to provide public water and sewer services to residents and businesses along Virginia 122.
When Franklin County became part of the WVWA, it took control of a water line that ran from Bedford County along Virginia 122 into Westlake, as well as water service that had been originally put into place by The Willard Companies.
Since that time, WVWA has installed public water in Burnt Chimney and developments in the Westlake area along Scruggs Road, Morewood Road, Merriman Way Road and Lakewatch. The water authority has also taken over operation of water systems in several developments around the southern part of the lake, including The Water’s Edge community in Penhook.
The WVWA and the Bedford Regional Water Authority also formed a partnership to create the Smith Mountain Lake Water Treatment Plant in 2017. The plant, located in Bedford County, is jointly owned between the two water authorities.
“It’s been quite a partnership,” Robertson said, adding that it’s likely the first of its kind in the state.
The SML Water Treatment Plant provides more than a million gallons of water to Franklin County each day and about 2 million gallons to residents in Bedford County. Robertson said the plant’s current capacity is 4 million gallons, but it can be expanded to as much as 12 million gallons a day, which will provide enough for several water line expansions in both counties in the coming years.
For Robertson, the water treatment plant was the latest in a long line of big projects for the WVWA. He said he decided to retire at an age where he can still enjoy and do other things such as travel. “Something just told me it was time,” he said.
With Robertson’s retirement, McEvoy is now the only executive director for WVWA. He said the water authority will continue expansion of water lines to more Franklin County residents in the future. Current plans are to connect water lines from Virginia 122 to U.S. 220, possibly by running lines along Wirtz Road, as well as along Virginia 40.
Getting water to Union Hall in anticipation of future growth was being discussed when Robertson retired. Proposed routes included extending lines farther down Virginia 122 to Virginia 40 and connecting from there. Another option is to extend the water line from Scruggs Road down Dudley Amos Road and under Smith Mountain Lake near channel marker B14 to connect to Dillards Hill Road in Union Hall.
McEvoy said any plans to extend water lines from the Westlake area to U.S. 220 or to Virginia 40 are being discussed. No decisions have been made on when or how any future expansion could occur.