Environmental Health Services

People interact with the environment constantly. These interactions affect quality of life and years of healthy life lived. Our staff works to protect the safe quality of your water and food, and to find and control health threats in your indoor and outdoor environments.

Onsite Sewage & Water Services

Municipal Sewage and Water services are available in only a small portion of the ten counties served by the Three Rivers Health District, making onsite sewage and water services vital to our rural communities. Approximately fifty thousand households are served by onsite sewage in the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula.

The safe location, construction, and maintenance of our communities’ onsite sewage systems are key components in protecting the safety of the groundwater that we drink from public and private wells, as well as the health and vitality of our rivers and the Chesapeake Bay upon which the economic and public health of our region so closely depends.

Learn about how a septic system works


Find a Private Provider for Your Septic System or Well

*Please note that your onsite system installer or well driller needs to be properly licensed.

  • Construction Permits authorize the construction of a sewage disposal system in a certain location. They are valid for 18 months, and do not transfer with a change of property ownership. We recommend that you apply for a permit only when you are ready to build or begin construction on your sewage disposal system. After your system is installed and inspected, you will need an Operation Permit from the Health Department to receive a Certificate of Occupancy from the local building official. If you will be using a private water well, it must also be approved before the Operation Permit can be issued.
  • Certification Letters do not expire, and they transfer with a change of property ownership. Certification Letters specify on a survey plat a certain area where the health department assures that a permit can be obtained for a system of a stated capacity or flow. However, they do not specify what type of system will be permitted, and do not authorize any actual system construction. If you apply for a sewage disposal system within 18 months of obtaining a certification letter, the permit application fee is waived, although fees for Private Well Construction Permit will still apply if a private water well is desired.



SCHEDULE OF FEES With private evaluator documentation Without private evaluator documentation
Certification letter, no private evaluator documentation, ≤1,000 gallons per day. $320 $350
Certification letter, >1,000 gpd $1,400 n/a
Construction permit for onsite system only. $225 $425
Combined well and onsite system construction permit. $525 $725
Construction permit for onsite system only with private evaluator documentation, >1,000 gpd $1,400 n/a
Combined well and onsite system construction permit, >1,000 gpd $1,700 n/a
Private well construction or abandonment permit, including heat pump wells. $300 $300
Minor modification to an existing system $100 $100

Three Rivers Health encourages the public to seek the services of a private, licensed Onsite Soil Evaluator or Professional Engineer who can evaluate properties and design conventional and alternative onsite systems. You do not need an initial evaluation by VDH to have your system designed by the private sector.

If you apply for a Certification Letter or Construction Permit from your local Health Department and want us to perform the site and soil evaluation and design services for your system, your permit or letter will be prepared and issued by one of our Environmental Health Specialists—who are all licensed professional Onsite Soil Evaluators. There are some limitations as to what designs we can prepare, however; for example, AOSS designs typically involve proprietary products and we cannot specify brand-name products in our designs. If our evaluation determines your site requires the use of an AOSS, we will advise you to consult with a private OSE or PE.


A private well is usually intended for household, ground water source heat pump, agricultural use, industrial use, or other nonpublic water well.

Most drinking water wells permitted in Three Rivers Health District are class IIIA or IIIB wells, commonly referred to as ‘artesian’ or ‘drilled’ wells. These wells are required to have a certain depth of casing and are grouted around the casing to prevent surface contamination. They can only be drilled in permitted areas located safely away from potential sources of contamination. The fee for a well permit is $300.  If you are replacing an older well with a new one, you will be refunded that $300 when we receive your well driller’s report for abandoning the older well.

Before a new well can be approved for use:

  • It must be inspected by the local Health Department and, if the permit was designed by a private OSE or PE, by them as well.
  • The health department must receive a copy of the Well Driller’s Construction Report, also called a GW-2.
  • If the well is intended for drinking, the health department must receive a copy of satisfactory water sample results showing there are no bacteria in the water

Bacterial sampling kits can be picked up at any local Health Department office.  These are provided by private water testing labs and fee information for those labs is contained in the kits.


Financing an onsite system or water well, especially for the unplanned expense of repairing one that has failed, can be a challenge for anyone.   There are a number of resources you may pursue for loan or grant assistance specific to onsite system and water well projects.  They include:

  • Southeast Rural Community Assistance Project, Inc. (SERCAP) helps rural residents with their water and wastewater systems. Funding is made available to low-income individuals and communities in the form of grants and loans in order to rehabilitate housing and build water and wastewater infrastructure.
  • Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission provides financial assistance to Middle Peninsula area homeowners for the repair and/or replacement of malfunctioning onsite systems. They also provide assistance for pumping out septic tanks.
  • Northern Neck Planning District Commission provides financial assistance to Northern Neck area homeowners for maintenance of onsite systems, including assistance for pumping our septic tanks.
  • Bay Aging serves all ten counties of Three Rivers Health; their Bay Family Housing program may be able to offer assistance with onsite system and water well projects.


If your onsite system fails, it is important to contact your local health department right away.  If your system is backing up into your home or water is ponding over your drainfield, this wastewater can pose real health risks to your family and neighbors.  We can help you fill out an application for a permit to repair the system, if you will need one. An Environmental Health Specialist will work with you and a sewage system contractor to help evaluate the cause of this malfunction, help guide you toward the most effective and practical solution

Food Safety

The Center for Disease control estimates that every year, one of every six people suffer a food-borne illness, and over 100,000 people get sick enough to require hospitalization.  Making sure that food facilities handle approved foods in a safe and clean manner when serving the public is a priority goal for our food safety staff.

Environmental Health Specialists evaluate and inspect food establishments that include almost 500 facilities in Three Rivers: restaurants, continental breakfasts, mobile units, seasonal concessions, festivals, school cafeterias, child care centers, hospitals, nursing homes, motels, bed and breakfasts, and homes for adults and institutions for food safety. We also inspect over 250 temporary food events per year.  Our Dairy Program specialists make regular inspections of any dairy operations in the health district.

VIEW VDH RESTAURANT INSPECTIONS HERE                                                      REPORT A FOODBORNE ILLNESS


When a food establishment is constructed or extensively remodeled, or when an existing building is converted for use as a food establishment for the first time, properly prepared plans for this work must be submitted to the health department for approval before the work is begun.  Note: plans should also be submitted to the planning (zoning) department, building official, and Fire Marshall for review and approval to obtain a Certificate of Occupancy you will need from the County.

Here are the steps you will need to take at the Health Department:

  • Submit a completed application for a Department of Health Food Permit along with payment of the $40.00 permit fee. Don’t forget to include your proposed menu.
  • Submit a completed Food Establishment Plan Review if your building is new or remodeled for approval along with payment of the $40.00 Plan Review fee.
  • Once plans are all approved, request a health department inspection of the facility prior to opening the facility.

Please plan for a thirty (30) day permit processing time for new foodservice facilities.


Understanding food safety principles can help prevent a food-borne illness related to the consumption of improperly prepared or handled food. Food safety training is extremely important in ensuring that food establishments offer the safest food possible to the public.  Three Rivers strongly recommends that food establishment owners and employees at all levels receive food safety training. Gloucester County requires Food Manager’s Certification.  Beginning in 2018, VDH food regulations will require this certification for restaurants statewide.

In addition, we recommend that anyone regularly cooking for crowds, like civic groups or faith organizations, consider food safety training for the well-being of those they serve.

Below are Certified Foodservice Manager Programs and Tests that are accredited by the American National Standards Institute and the Conference for Food Protection and acceptable to the Virginia Department of Public Health:

  • 360.com, Inc
  • Learn2Serve® Food Protection Manager Certification Program
  • National Registry of Food Safety Professionals
  • Food Protection Manager Certification Program
  • International Certified Food Safety Manager
  • National Restaurant Association ServSafe® Food Protection Manager Certification Program
  • Prometric Inc. Food Protection Manager Certification Program

Mobile Units and Push Cartsmobileunit

Mobile food units are also a type of restaurant and can operate year-round, like a kitchen on wheels.  They are permitted like any other food facility.  Food may be prepared on the vehicle, which is used to sell and dispense food to the consumer.

Push Carts, which are permitted primarily for hot-dog style food service, require a service area and permitted commissary.


Individuals, organizations, and/or businesses planning to sell or serve food at a public event must apply at the health department in the county where the event is held for a temporary event permit at least ten (10) business days prior to the event.  A temporary food event operates for a period of no more than fourteen (14) consecutive days in conjunction with a fair, festival, or community event.  For large special events (10 vendors or more), the coordinator must submit an application to the local health department.

Rabies Prevention

Three Rivers Health professionals conduct hundreds of exposure investigations every year. Fortunately, only a few of these cases will involve a confirmed case of animal rabies. The importance of this program cannot be understated because rabies is virtually 100% fatal.

Our environmental and nursing professionals  work together whenever there is the potential for human rabies. Our environmental health professionals also oversee animal confinement and quarantine, collect specimens for lab analysis, and often participate in rabies vaccination clinics.

If you are bitten by an animal:

  • Don't panic and wash the wound thoroughly with soap and lots of water. Washing thoroughly will greatly lessen the chance of infection. Give first aid as you would for any wound.
  • If possible, capture the animal under a large box or can, or at least identify it before it runs away. Don't try to pick up the animal. Instead call an animal control or law enforcement officer to come.
  • Notify your health care provider immediately and explain how you got the bite. They will want to know if the animal has been captured. Your healthcare provider will evaluate your wound and decide whether anti-rabies treatment is to be started and/or other treatment.
  • Report the bite to your local health department.


  • Have your veterinarian vaccinate your dogs, cats, ferrets, and selected livestock. Keep the vaccinations up-to-date.
  • If your pet is attacked or bitten by a wild animal, report it to the local health or animal control authorities. Be sure your vaccinated dog, cat, or ferret receives a booster vaccination.
  • Limit the possibility of exposure by keeping your animals on your property. Don’t let pets roam free.
  • Do not leave garbage or pet food outside. It may attract wild or stray animals.
  • Do not keep wild animals as pets. Enjoy all wild animals from a distance, even if they seem friendly. A rabid animal sometimes acts tame. If you see an animal acting strangely, report it to your local animal control department and do not go near it yourself.

Recreational Facility Inspections


Environmental Health field professionals conduct annual inspections on over 500 facilities in our district. Because marinas and other boating facilities bring people to the waters of the Commonwealth, adequate human sanitation must be provided at these facilities in order to protect the waters and those using them from sewage contamination. This involves regulating and inspecting marinas and boating facilities to ensure proper bathroom facilities are present where required, and that sewage from boat holding tanks is disposed of properly using dump stations and Pump-Out facilities.

Marina Regulations and Pump Out Facilities


Three Rivers annually inspects and permits campgrounds and pools found at tourist locations (e.g. hotels and campgrounds). Other public pools are not required to be permitted or inspected; but they must adhere to Virginia Department of Health rules for posting pH, temperature, and chlorine levels. Owners of permit and non-permit public pools are responsible for maintaining and posting their water quality daily, and the Department of Health may inspect any pool as needed to protect public health.

Pool and Campground Regulations


Three Rivers Health participates in weekly water analyses of specific recreational waters during the swimming season.

Beach Advisory Map