It was 50 years ago when Rapidan Service Authority (RSA) was formed with approval from neighboring counties with one purpose in mind — control water flow, sewage and all other uses of the Rapidan River and its tributaries.
RSA, which services Greene, Madison and Orange counties, was the first regional project of its type in Virginia.
While the tri-county authority eventually branched off to include wastewater management, and at one point landfill management, general manager Tim Clemons says RSA never has lost its small-town customer service.
Now with approximately 3,000 accounts in Greene, nearly 5,000 in Orange and more than 275 in Madison — longtime RSA employees Eddie Jarrell and Lynn Clements can attest, there’s no typical day.
Now and then
Jarrell, RSA’s longest-tenured employee at 40 years, has managed each of the authority’s seven water or wastewater treatment plants at one time or another. As the current operations coordinator, his primary concern now is keeping up with permits, inspections, regulations and reports.
Clements, who was the first engineer RSA hired 39 years ago, now serves as the director of projects — inspecting construction jobs and overseeing future projects.
Both agree that while some aspects have evolved, water production and wastewater treatment remain the same.
“Of course, technology has changed. There’s more bells and whistle with everything,” Jarrell said, recalling having to manually read meters each day. “As far as what we do, that hasn’t changed. The basics are always there. We’re doing a service for the community.”
Updated technology now allows for checking levels, tanks and pump stations remotely.
“We’ve progressed with modern technology. But the basic thing is we provide water for people, and we’re always going to take care of the basics,” Clements added.
Despite changes in technology, Clemons says the authority’s customer service never has differed.
“We’re small enough still that if we see someone whose water bill looks abnormally high for whatever reason, we try to contact them and say, ‘It looks like something’s going on.’ We try to provide that kind of customer service and keep it still kind of a small town type deal.”
According to Greene County Record archives, the authority began with five members: John W. Dickey and Ray O. Snow from Greene, Jimmy Graves from Madison and Myers R. Pickett and I.W. Jeanes II from Orange. The first board meeting was held July 1, 1969 at the Orange County Courthouse.
RSA presently employs 40 people between two offices in Ruckersville and Locust Grove, including six who have worked for the authority between 30 and 40 years: Cindy Breeden; Lorenzo “Leo” Davis; Jerry Gibson; Cynthia Taylor; Clements; and Jarrell. Another five employees have spent 25 to 30 years with RSA with another five between 10 and 25 years.
Beyond 50 years
When Clemons came to RSA 19 years ago, he said it was growing rapidly. However, the authority saw a decline during the 2008 recession that only recently began to pick back up.
“When I came there was a lot of growth going on, but as with everywhere else, it slowed down dramatically in 2007-08,” he said. “We saw our water production rates drop off significantly because people were trying to conserve money everywhere.”
But with growth in all three counties, Clemons said the authority has taken on a lot of new customers.
“We offer water at a very reasonable rate that has been treated to either meet or exceed both state and federal standards and guidelines. On the sewer side, we can eliminate the need to have a septic tank and drainfield,” Clemons said. “We have generators at our plants, so we can provide water even when there is no regular electrical service. We offer a very reliable product. It’s always going to be there.”
Currently, RSA operates nine different systems in the three counties and serves 2,911 customers with water and 979 with sewer in Greene; 4,951 water and 5,482 sewer customers in Orange; and 289 water and 176 sewer customers in Madison. Clemons sees even more growth for RSA in the future, propelling the need for new and updated water and sewer systems.
“I see RSA continuing to grow, particularly as I look at Orange County and Greene County. We’re starting to hear about more and more growth starting in Greene. We’re going to have a need for a new water plant in Greene because we will be exceeding the permitted capacity at our existing plant,” he said. “We’re probably going to be faced with that same thing in Orange County at the Locust Grove area over time as growth down there begins.”
One anticipated future project is the Greene County Water Supply and Treatment Project, formerly called White Run Reservoir.
The project includes constructing a new treatment facility and turning the current facility on U.S. Route 29 near the Rapidan River into a pump station. The proposed reservoir would have a 1,460-foot-long, 75-foot high dam to cover 125 flooded acres and hold approximately 900 million gallons of water. It would allow for a daily demand of up to 3.5 million gallons of water. Preliminary estimates suggest that the entire project will cost between $45-65 million.
“It benefits all of Greene County. It benefits not only the service authority, but it benefits the customers in Greene County, the folks who use the businesses in Greene County, restaurants in Greene County, people will benefit from fire protection. It will be a benefit to all,” Clemons said.
While growth is inevitable, Clemons said customer service remains a priority at RSA.
“We don’t want to grow to the point where we don’t think about the customers,” he said. “I think our role here is to provide customer service. Our customers are what fund this utility authority, so they’re the people that we should take care of.”
All three agree that in addition to building relationships with customers, RSA has built relationships with regulatory agencies and all three counties.
“When we first took over, there was some resistance like, ‘Hey, this is a company that we don’t know about. Why should we give them our water and sewer system?’ We finally worked through that and gained the confidence of each jurisdiction. All of that makes for a really good, common bond all across the board,” Clements said.