Monday, September 28, 2015

The Tale of Two Water Systems


There is no true “cost” of water. The price charged for water, often does not reflect its value or true cost. Much of our drinking water infrastructure is nearing the end of its useful life and approaching the age at which it needs to be replaced. Moreover, our growing regional population stresses our supply of fresh water requiring billions of gallons of additional water storage. The price charged for water has a political component.

Fairfax Water has announced its intention to raise their water rates next spring. There will be a public hearing on Thursday, December 17, 2015, on the proposed rate increase held at Fairfax Water’s main office at 8570 Executive Park Avenue in Fairfax. This rate increase is part of an ongoing program in Fairfax to ensure that the water infrastructure in Fairfax County is maintained.

The need for infrastructure replacement is an issue that has caused significant service problems and rate increases in other parts of the Washington Metropolitan region. Fairfax Water Board of Directors have dedicated funding to infrastructure maintenance and replacement for many years, and has forecast future capital needs for replacing water mains in the system rather than try the wait for the water mains to fail first. In addition, Fairfax Water is planning for additional water storage within their system by developing the Vulcan Quarry as a reservoir.

Fairfax Water benefits from the fact that their distribution system is relatively young. Over half of the water mains (56%) have been in the ground for 30 years or less and only 23% of their distribution system is over 50 years old. After observing the experience of other regional water companies that have neglected maintenance and replacement they are choosing the other path. In the next decade or two, Fairfax Water will have to replace the oldest portions of the distribution system to maintain their record of low water rates and system-wide break rate at the lowest in the region. In 2010, the Fairfax Water Board increased the annual budget for repair and replacement of the water pipes by 50% to $9 million per year and has since increased expenditures for repair and replacement to $11 million per year. Yet, water in Fairfax remains a bargain.

Fairfax Water performed a comparison of the water costs throughout the Washington Metropolitan region. This comparison is based on rates as of July 1, 2015, and on 24,000 gallons of residential water use for an established account. That is approximately the water usage of one person. The amount shown for each jurisdiction/utility includes the service charge and the water charge for 24,000 gallons. I assume that the comparison was done this way because Fairfax Water looks best with this approach, as you can see in the chart Fairfax Water has the lowest quarterly rate in the region.

From Fairfax Water
In contrast, the highest quarterly water rates in the region are in Manassas Park more than three times the cost of water in Fairfax. The city of Manassas Park does not own their water supply or water treatment plant. Instead they buy their water from the City of Manassas and Prince William County who in turn buys water from Fairfax Water. Not only does Manassas Park have to pay for the water they receive, but also for the right to have access to part of the water supply and reservoirs. Manassas Park is a small utility system and they have to spread the system’s overhead costs over a relatively small base of fewer than 5,000 customers.

In addition, tucked into that overhead is debt service. Manassas Park is responsible for paying City utility bonds, their share of the bonds used to build the Upper Occoquan Service Authority Waste Water Treatment plant where there sewage is treated. In addition because the water and sewer payments go into the city's Enterprise Fund the money is also needed to make the annual principal and interest payments on the bonds sold to build the City Schools, Police Station, and Fire Station & Community Center. In total bond interest and principal payments will increase to $4.5 million in FY2016 when the sewer bonds come due. (In case you do not have a calculator handy, that is $900 per household.)

On top of the debt that Manassas Park has managed to accumulate, they failed to properly maintain their water distribution system. At the worst point in the winter of 2011 Manassas Park was losing over half the water they purchased to leaks. In the past few years, they have managed to reduce their water loss to around 25%, increase system pressure, cut city costs and raise revenues by increasing taxes and water and sewage rates. In case you care about these things Manassas Park’s bond ratings have improved from junk to once more investment grade. So Manassas Park is headed in the right direction, but fees and taxes are not going down and it does not appear they have the capital to improve the distribution system.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Wood Rot

Yes that is my house

Wood rot is sometimes called “dry rot,” but that is simply a misnomer. Decayed wood is often dry in the final stages when the wood has blossomed with the bodies of wood-rotting fungus giving rias the illusion of dry rot, but moisture is required for the rot to spread. While the decay is taking place the wood must be moist. Wood rot or decay is caused by fungi, microscopic plants that form threads almost invisible to the naked eye unless clumped together. Some fungi merely discolor wood, but decay fungi destroy the fibers that give the wood strength. Spores or “seeds” of decay fungi are always present in the air; they can’t be kept away from wood. But fungi can only grow in wood only when it contains more than 20 % moisture.

There are also two species of fungi that spread from moist soil into dry wood by conducting water to the wood through vine-like structures, but most fungi cannot conduct moisture. Decay happen most frequently when two conditions are present, the wood is regularly soaked and remains wet and a section of the wood is exposed or in contact with soil.

Fungi and termites may sometimes occur in the same wood because the moisture attracts pests. Decay fungi soften the wood and, in the final stages, make it spongy or cause it to shrink, crack and crumble, but do not produce the continuous, clear-cut tunnels or galleries characteristic of termite infestation. Often wood decay occurs without termites.To prevent wood decay you need to keep decay fungi from entering the bottom of the structure and keep the wood elements dry.

To prevent moisture, your home site should be well drained. The soil surface should slope away from the house, and downspouts should discharge into drains or masonry gutters or splash blocks that lead the water several feet away from the house. I was careful to choose a house with a natural slope from northwest corner to southeast corner. I added French drains to the west side and south side of the house to move water away from the home and I was careful about maintenance, and yet my home developed a wood rot problem.

Serious decay damage is most often due to one or more of the following errors in construction or maintenance:
  1. Poorly drained soil and insufficient ventilation under houses without basements.
  2. Wood such as grade stakes, concrete forms, or stumps left on or in soil under houses.
  3. Wood parts of the house in direct contact with the soil. 
  4. Wood parts embedded in masonry near the ground.
  5. Use of unseasoned and infected lumber.
  6. Sheathing paper that is not sufficiently permeable to moisture vapor.
  7. Inadequate flashing at windows, doors, and roof edges.
  8. Poor joinery around windows and doors and at corners, and inadequate paint maintenance.
  9. Lack of rain gutters and roofs without overhang.
  10. Unventilated attics.
  11. Roof leaks; leaks around shower-bathtub combinations, kitchen fixtures, and laundry rooms.
  12. Failure to use pressure treated lumber or naturally durable wood where moisture cannot be controlled.
When we ripped apart the front of the house and jack hammered the edge of the concrete step we found that the side wall of the house had not been properly flashed and that there seem to be water infiltration below the palladium window and possibly from above the palladium window. In general, architectural frills or decorative elements of construction often provide entry points for water or pockets were moisture can remain long enough to let decay get started. Lumber absorbs water most readily through exposed ends, and in joints.

As the contractor took the front of the house apart, he did not find a “leak” what he found were several of the construction errors above. So, it was decided to rebuild central section of the front wall of the house that was covered in decorative imitation stone. I had to have the imitation stone removed because the decayed wood extended under it. By removing the stone we were able to see the extent of the damage and rebuild.
the old front of the house
Since I was spending a lot of money to repair the damage I spent even more to improve the construction of the house so that hopefully wood rot will not re-occur in the future. After removing the stone facing from the front of the house, they removed the Tyvek house wrap, the oriented strand board subsiding and insulation. Some of the insulation was damp and an entire side of the sub-structure was rotted as well as the cantilevered floor that formed the entry way.

All the damaged structural wood beams were removed and replaced with pressure treated lumber. Once repairs were made, new r-15 insulation was installed on the main part of the house and the garage (which was being rebuilt because the fake stone had to be removed from that wall, too so the decorative stone would match). After that the house was re-sheathed using pressure treated plywood to replace subsiding and all exposed siding was wrapped with DuPont Tyvek.
same corner as on top rebuilt

After rebuilding the base of the wall the new flashing was installed at the base that extends a foot above the steps. The palladium window and door were replaced with a Marvin window and the front door, transom and sidelights with a Pella door. All were very carefully flashed. Finally, the contractor installed a Driwall Rainscreen system by Keene products on top of the Tyvek wrap to move moisture that might build up under the stone away from the house and then installed the new real stone facing.

Decorative elements of the front were reworked to prevent water infiltration. Between the palladium window and the top of the front door is a single sheet of plastic material with trim applied on top, rather than the separate elements that were there before. The new window has a pronounced sill that was lacking in the old window. New gutters were installed with gutter returns. Beefier trim was installed around the window and above the stone. A French drain moves water away from the front steps and ultimately away from the house. Every change made was intended to prevent water infiltration with the pressure treated lumber was my last defense against future damage. Now I am hoping that this all works.
A lot of money was spent and it does look a little prettier




Monday, September 21, 2015

Raspberry Falls and Selma Estates – The Final Water Solution

On Thursday, September 24, 2015 at 7:00 pm Loudoun Water will be holding a public meeting for the Raspberry Falls and Selma Estates water systems. The meeting will be held in the Loudoun Water Boardroom located at 44865 Loudoun Water Way, Ashburn, VA 20147.

Loudoun Water is finally moving ahead with the design and construction of water treatment for Raspberry Falls and Selma Estates building a single water treatment plant to serve both communities. This process began in 2010 when routine testing found total coliform and E. coli bacteria in the untreated raw water from one of the Raspberry Falls wells. That well was determined to be Groundwater Under is the Direct Influence of Surface Water or GUDI by the Virginia Department of Health whose regulations require filtration and disinfection of GUDI water used in a drinking water supply system.

Instead, the well was taken out of service and replaced the following year by a new well at a cost of almost a million dollars. Replacing the well solved the problem for the short term, while Loudoun Water investigated long term solutions. However, experience in the western third of Virginia has demonstrated that the GUDI condition could impact the other wells and it ultimately did.

In the summer of 2014 two of the four wells in Selma Estates and one of the two wells in Raspberry Falls were taken offline after E. coli was detected. The three remaining wells between the two systems could only produce enough water to meet the typical indoor needs, and Loudoun Water requested that residents conserve water and to curb outdoor water use. The communities responded well and reduced their water usage so that the communities could survive the water emergency without mandated water restrictions.

The Raspberry Falls and Selma Estates current water supply systems were constructed by the community developers in 2002 and 2007 respectively, possibly inappropriately considering the underlying geology. After completion they were turned over to Loudoun Water to operate. Raspberry Falls and Selma Estates are clustered developments built in the karst area of Loudoun County in what is now the limestone overlay district. This district was created in 2010 in the area of the county generally north of Leesburg and east of the Catoctin Mountains which is underlain by limestone conglomerate bedrock and runs north along Route 15. The limestone overlay district is really just a zoning change that attempts to ensure that the groundwater supply in that area is capable of supporting needs of current and future residents without creating sinkholes. Karst terrain is fragile and ignoring the limits of natural systems can have serious consequences.

Currently Water is supplied to Raspberry Falls by two community wells. The Selma Estates community drinking water treatment system consists of four wells, water storage, booster pumps, a sodium hypochlorite treatment for disinfection, a greensand filtration unit, a fluoride feed system, an orthophosphate feed system, a standby generator and the pipes for the distribution system.

Though, Loudoun Water considered building separate systems for the two communities the final plan now is to build a combined system with 900 gallon per day per connection maximum flow rate. The plant will be located in Selma Estates and will utilize membrane filtration. This is a water purification technology approved by the Virginia Department of Health and successfully used in dozens of karst locations in the Commonwealth. This technology uses a semipermeable membrane to remove bacteria and microorganisms from the water.

A combined water system is being built because though the initial capital costs are a bit lower for separate smaller system the ongoing operating costs are much lower for a combined system. Selma Estates was chosen as the site for the combined system because it is located at a higher elevation than Raspberry Falls and gravity can be utilized to reduce the cost of water distribution.

The project is currently still in the design stage and will be ready to go out to bid at the end of 2015. Construction is planned to begin and be completed in 2016. The treatment plant is planned to be operational at the beginning of 2017. Loudoun Water will fund the capital costs of the new water treatment system through its general fund. The communities will not be assessed as originally announced last winter. The general fund will be replenished over time through user rate payments collected from all Loudoun Water customers.

Loudoun Water is a political subdivision of the state, just like a town or a county. All income is received is either as ongoing user fees from customers or as availability fees from developers. Loudoun Water receives no tax money. Loudoun County has been one of the fastest growing counties in the country over the past decade and Loudoun Water has capital improvement and expansion projects totaling over $600 million planned over the next 5 years. All of this will have to be paid for by water rates.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Dirt’s Partner in Protecting Children from Asthma

photo by Scott Bauer from USDA

For more than a quarter of a century scientists have observed that children growing up on a dairy farm have a lower incidence of allergy, hay fever and asthma and other respiratory diseases than other children. At least a dozen observational studies aimed at uncovering the underlying cause of the increased incidence of asthma in children have confirmed this protective effect. This observation has produced the idea known as the hygiene hypothesis, that our modern obsession with cleanliness and widespread use of antibiotics and antibacterial soaps has purged our homes of microorganisms that once taught a child’s developing immune system not to overreact to foreign substances.

Endotoxins are part of the outer membrane of bacteria and are shed into the environment after bacteria die. Endotoxins, potent stimulators of the immune system, are ubiquitous. Though exposure to dirt containing endotoxins is probably only one explanation for the protective effect of growing up on a dairy farm, the correlation has been confirmed. A 2013 paper by Barnig et al “Indoor dust and air concentrations of endotoxin in urban and rural environments” that analyzed endotoxins in farmhouses and non-farmhouses found that endotoxin levels were significantly higher in floor and mattress dust in farmhouses compared to other rural and urban homes. Lack of ventilation and direct entry into the house were found to correlate with an increase in dust endotoxin levels. However, the scientists in that study found no difference between endotoxin concentrations in the air of urban and rural houses, and airborne endotoxin levels did not correlate to dust levels.

It was assumed that the dust containing the endotoxins acted directly to train the immune system’s T cells. However, in a new paper published September 4th 2015 in Science Magazine, “Farm dust and endotoxin protect against allergy through A20 induction in lung epithelial cells,“ scientists from Gent University and Flanders Institute in Belgium have found another mechanism by which the endotoxins provide protection. A20 is an enzyme made by the epithelial cells in the respiratory tract and lungs. In laboratory studies using mice the scientists showed that chronic exposure to dust containing elevated levels of endotoxins provided protection from developing asthma. The experiments provided evidence that environmental protective factors can work by suppressing the activation of epithelial cell cytokines that activate dendritic cells (inflammatory molecules) through the induction of the ubiquitin–modifying enzyme A20.

In mice that were specially engineered to lack the gene for A20 in their lung epithelial cells, endotoxin exposure did not provide protection from asthma. The scientists also tested the response of human bronchial cells harvested from healthy people and people with asthma. The scientists found that exposure to endotoxins lowered the levels of the inflammatory molecules in the healthy cells. Despite endotoxin exposure the levels of inflammatory molecules did not decrease as much in cells from people with asthma and that those cells also made less of the enzyme A20.

This newly discovered mechanism for protection from asthma is unlikely to be the only pathway of protection for farm children from allergy, hay fever and asthma and other respiratory diseases. Within the gut, colonizing microbial induct the express of A20 shortly after birth to dampen inflammation to commensal bacteria. In a 2013 study in Poland it was found that early-life exposure to unpasteurized milk appears to protect against asthma, and related conditions, independently of place of residence and farming status, and in both children and adults. What we are also learning is how complicated an organism we are and important commensal bacteria are.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Doing a Brewery Right in Prince William County


from Google maps

Last Tuesday the, Prince William Board of County Supervisors announced its intent to sell the old Thomasson Dairy Barn, on Hornbaker Road in Innovation Park, in Manassas along with 6 acres of land surrounding the site, for $1 million to Silva Holdings, Co. Silva Holdings is the group that withdrew their application for a destination Farm Brewery in Clifton, VA last May after the community did not support the project.

In an open letter to the community of Clifton Mark Silva, one of the partners said “Your concerns and fears have NOT fallen on deaf ears and now it’s time to walk the talk. In the spirit of cooperation and understanding, I have decided to forego bringing Loudmouth Brewing Co. to Clifton, Virginia, and accordingly, we intend to withdraw our application to the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control by COB tomorrow. I know that many of my supporters are disappointed. I am too. But our disappointment must be overcome by our love for the community... I look forward to having a pint of craft beer with all of you very soon...just somewhere else! “

Well, that somewhere else is here in Prince William County. Mr. Silva told me that he had initially considered the old Thomasson Dairy Barn as the site for his destination Farm Brewery and after giving up plans for Clifton approached the Prince William County Department of Economic Development and negotiated a deal. “The preservation and reuse of the Thomasson Barn has long been a desire of the Board, and is identified as a strategic priority in our Comprehensive Plan,” said Corey A. Stewart, Chairman, of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors. “The planned use as a microbrewery and bistro will provide an amenity for the companies located in and around Innovation Park and will make the area even more attractive for companies that are considering locating to the area.”

As part of the sales agreement, Silva Holdings will restore the historical landmark which will be incorporated into an $8 million destination brewery, bistro and distribution facility operating under the name 2 Silos Brewing Company. In addition to the $8 million in capital investment, the project is expected to create more than 100 new jobs for our community and turn the Thomasson Dairy Barn from County surplus to gem.

The Thomasson Dairy Barn built in 1929 was once the milking barn of a dairy operated by William Thomasson. The barn was constructed using textile hollow-tile terracotta blocks and is an example of a two-story barn of that era, utilizing the two silos for grain feed storage, the first floor for milking cows and the second floor for hay storage. The protracted decline of the dairy industry in Prince William County led to the eventual ceasing of operations and barn has been vacant for over 50 years. As Supervisor Jeanine Lawson said, “This project embodies the type of development I have been pushing for in Prince William County. It supports our agribusiness community, provides for family gatherings and enhances Innovation Park for our business community.”

This restoration project moves the Thomasson Barn from County surplus to a new category of commercial real estate property and will generate tax revenue, while enabling citizens and visitors to appreciate their rich agricultural heritage anew. Prince William County will extend the road and provide access to public water and sewer to the site. The Thomasson Dairy Barn is zoned M1 and not part of the Rural Crescent, but rather part of the Innovation Plan.

Though 2 Silos Brewing Company will still meet the requirement of Virginia SB 430 the law that created an easy to obtain limited brewery license for breweries that operate on a farm. The Initial Phase will include renovation of the Barn, construction of the beer garden and brewery with a capacity of 2,500-3,000 barrels a year. Subsequent Phases if the project is successful, could expand capacity to 15,000 barrels of beer a year and if rezoned to M2 higher production is possible. Farm breweries are limited to no more than 15,000 barrels of beer per calendar year, must be located on a farm in Virginia, and use agricultural products that are grown on that farm in the brewing of the beer.

Beer production has very few environmental issues. Excluding an accidental spill of a hazardous chemical such as anhydrous ammonia or chlorine (typically used to treat water), the main discharge from beer production is wastewater high in organic matter. However, 2 Silos Brewing Company will be connected to public water and sewage and presented a series of plans to incorporate low impact development strategies at the site. 

Beer is about 95% water; however the amount of water used to produce a pint of beer is far greater that the amount of water contained in the beer. Although water usage varies widely among breweries and is dependent upon specific processes, the U.S. average is about 7 gallons of water for each gallon of beer produced, but varies from 3.26-7.44 gallons of water to gallons of beer. That figure is from the 2011 study by the Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable (BIER). Craft breweries tend to be on the higher end of the range because small packaging uses more water and the size of the brewery, but water recycling equipment packages are available. According to the BIER study facilities with larger production volumes tend to have lower water use ratios.

However, the brewery will be on public water and its water usage for beer production 3,000 barrels will be equivalent to about the water use of about 24 people. At the full production of 15,000 the water usage would be equivalent to about 120 people. There will also be water usage for growing hops, and operating the bistro and beer garden. Silva Holdings estimated water usage for their previous (and abandoned) project at 20,376 gallons of water a week for their Phase I which produced 2,500 barrels of beer a year, 42,212 gallons of water a week for Phase II which produced 5,000 barrels of beer a year, and 84,760 gallons of water a week for Phase III which produced 12,500 barrels of beer a year. While this might have had a significant impact on the water table from a groundwater well producing most of that water over several days in Clifton, the impact on public water and sewer is not significant. Silva Holdings intends to minimize impact and I look forward to learning more about their plans when I speak to their team next week.
from PWC

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Roundup, Earthworms and the Eco-System

Glyphosate (N-phosphonomethylglycine), the active ingredient in the herbicide Roundup that is manufactured by Monsanto is the most popular herbicide in use today in the United States, and increasingly throughout the World. Americans spray an estimated 180-185 million pounds of the weed killer, on their yards and farms every year. All the acute toxicity tests have found that glyphosate is nearly nontoxic to mammals; however, there have been for some time a minority of scientists and experts who believes that glyphosate may be much more toxic than is claimed and push for studying potential impacts to human health from low level constant exposure to glyphosate. This past year glyphosate was labeled a probable carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, IARC, which is the cancer research arm of the World Health Organization.

Now, a new research study recently republished in Nature magazine has found that glyphosate impacts the life of soil dwelling organisms, the soil itself and our water resources. The study directly links the effect of glyphosate-based herbicides on two common species of earthworms that play an important role in the life of soil and ecology, breaking down dead organic matter.

Earthworms are nature’s farmers breaking down the dead organic matter and incorporating the organic matter into the soil by their burrowing and casting (releasing their feces in the soil). Earthworms living in soils (or your compost bin) decompose organic matter. Decomposition releases nutrients locked up in dead plants and animals and makes them available for use by living plants. Earthworms do this by eating organic matter and breaking it down into smaller pieces allowing bacteria and fungi to feed on it and release the nutrients. So when you impact earthworms you impact the life of the soil, the health of our plants and ecosystem.

In this greenhouse based study the scientists directly linked the effect of earthworms on different plant species and the effect of glyphosate-based herbicides on earthworms and their ecosystem functions. The scientists had initially assumed that glyphosate would stimulate earthworm activity and reproduction due to increased availability of food and thus increase soil nutrient availability, water infiltration and decomposition. However, they found exactly the opposite.

The activity and reproduction of earthworms was dramatically decreased by glyphosate-based herbicides. Surface cast production of the anecic earthworm species almost ceased after the herbicide was applied and reproduction of both earthworm species was substantially decreased. Taken together, the effect of glyphosate and earthworm activity on soil ecosystem services, the increased availability of nitrate and phosphate after herbicide application poses the danger of leaching these nutrients into groundwater systems and aquatic ecosystems. Reduced earthworm populations in areas with pesticide contamination decreases water infiltration and can cause higher surface runoffs heavy rains.

Earthworms represent the major part of the animal biomass in soil and influence plant growth and health both directly by changes of root growth and indirectly by changing the physical, chemical, or biological soil environment. The life of soil is the life of mankind. Earthworms are essential to soil health and the side-effects of glyphosate and other herbicides on earthworms, should be further studied and more seriously considered in farming practices.


If you would like to learn more about the study, the full text can be accessed here.
Gaupp-Berghausen, M. et.al. Glyphosate-based herbicides reduce the activity and reproduction of earthworms and leads to increased soil nutrient concentrations. Sci Rep 5, 12886-doi 10 1038/srep 12886 (2015).

Monday, September 7, 2015

More Water Storage Needed for the DC Region

The Potomac River is the primary water supply source for the Washington metropolitan area providing almost 95% of the drinking water to around 4.6 million people at home or in their workplaces. River water is drawn by the Washington Aqueduct Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (WAD), the Fairfax County Water Authority (FCWA), the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC), and City of Rockville and by 2017 Loudoun Water will be drawing directly for the Potomac to provide water for their customers. Though the population of the Washington metropolitan area has grown 18% since 1990 (from 3.9 million to 4.6 million), over the same period the water use in the region has remained fairly constant and actually fallen slightly. For 2015 average daily water demand is forecast to be 486 million gallons a day. Per capita water use has not only fallen in our region, but throughout the United States.
from ICPRB
According the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) stream gage at Little Falls dam, the Potomac River flow averages about 7.4 billion gallons per day, typically with higher flows in the winter and lower flows in the summer, but the Potomac River is one of the least dammed large river systems in the Eastern United States. At most times the water withdrawals to supply the regional water utilities are but a small fraction of its flow. Nonetheless, the Potomac River’s flow needs to be managed to assure that there are 500 million gallons per day available for the regions drinking water and that there is enough water to perform the essential environmental services of the river.

The Potomac River flow fluctuates with season and weather. The Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin (ICPRB) helps the water companies manage the river’s water resources. The ICPRB was born out of the severe and extended drought in the 1960's when water withdrawals by the three major water companies from the Potomac reduced flows to such an extent that the River practically ran dry, leaving only mud between Great Falls and the tidal river. Ultimately (after more than a decade) the ICPRB was created and the Jennings Randolph Reservoir was built to manage the use of the Potomac River and to ensure that there is enough flow for essential services like wastewater assimilation and habitat maintenance. The ICPRB monitors river flows and water withdrawals to ensure the 100 million gallons per day minimum flow at Little Falls.

The minimum flow levels have been maintained since the early 1980's, but during times of drought, natural flows on the Potomac are not always sufficient to allow water withdrawals by the utilities while still maintaining the minimum flow in the river. The ICPRB allocates and manages water resources of the river through the management of the jointly owned Jennings Randolph Reservoir (built in 1981), Potomac River Low Flow Allocation Agreement (1978) and the Water Supply Coordination Agreement in 1982 which designated a section of the ICPRB as responsible for allocating water resources during times of low flow. These steps were part of a water management scheme developed by scientists at Johns Hopkins University and successfully improved reliability of the water supply for decades. The tools available to the ICPRB are to have members utilize their in system storage or the shared system storage and reduce their water withdrawals.

Fairfax Water has a reservoir on the Occoquan River, which is outside the freshwater drainage area and is supplied to a large extent by recycled wastewater. The reservoir’s current storage capacity is estimated at 7.6 billion gallons. Water from the Occoquan Reservoir can only supply the Griffith treatment plant which predominately serves the customers in the eastern portion of Fairfax Water’s service area and Prince William County. Fairfax Water has only a limited ability to transfer water from the Griffith plant to the western portion of its service area.

WSSC operates two reservoirs the Tridelphia Reservoir and T. Howard Duckett Reservoir (sometimes referred to as Rocky Gorge Reservoir). These reservoirs are operated in series and have a combined total storage capacity of about 10.0 billion gallons. Loudoun water is building not only a water treatment plant, but 1 billion gallons of water storage in an old quarry to supply their community during times of low flow. Finally there is the upstream jointly owned water storage. The Little Seneca Reservoir located in Black Hill Regional Park in Montgomery County, Maryland. The storage capacity of Little Seneca Reservoir is 3.9 billion gallons. The Jennings Randolph Reservoir is located in the far northwest corner of the Potomac River basin, bordering Garrett County in Maryland and Mineral County in West Virginia. Its storage capacity is 29.3 billion gallons. Finally, there is the Savage Reservoir with a storage capacity of 6.1 billion gallons.

An important aspect of the Water Supply Coordination Agreement of 1982 is for the ICPRB to forecast the region’s future needs for water and assessing the current water supply system’s ability to meet those needs. Reservoirs and other water supply solutions are very long term capital projects so the ICPRB performs an analysis every five years to look 25 years in the future to incorporate new data and ideas and allow time for the water utilities to develop new water supply or operating strategies in time to meet demand. Careful future planning has ensured and uninterrupted water supply though several significant droughts.
from ICPRB


Recent ICPRB forecasts have overestimated water use by not accounting for water savings and also overestimating population growth. Over time the water demand projections have grown flatter and hopefully more accurate. Now, ICPRB has released their 2015 report that assumes daily per capita water use will decrease by an additional 25%, incorporates various climate and weather scenarios but still uses the hockey stick projection of population growth provided by the Washington Council of Governments who forecast that the residential population is expected to grow by 23% and the workforce is expected to grow by 36% by 2040. They also looked carefully at the impact the climate change might have on water supply.

Historically, a key assumption was that the future flow of the Potomac River will mirror the hydraulic conditions for the past 79 years. If hydraulic conditions are changing or a 79 year period is inadequate to predict the possible extent of droughts, this could impact the availability of water. So, a couple of years ago the ICPRB engaged a study that created a model for various climate scenarios of water supply availability from Potomac Watershed to determine if the water supply would be adequate to serve the population. They used this model to examine the water supply adequacy of the current study.

The ICPRB found that the existing water supplies can meet demands of the forecasted population levels through the Year 2035, by implementing mandatory water restrictions during severe droughts. However, as the population and water demand continue to grow in the last five years of the projection period, the water supply is no longer certain. As the population continues to grow beyond 2035 forecast levels, the current supply system including the Potomac River and all current and planned reservoirs and water storage would not be adequate to supply all needs during a severe drought made worse by increased temperatures. The models showed that even with more stringent use restrictions, some of the reservoirs could be exhausted and the Potomac River water supply would still not meet total demand. The modeling showed that during a severe 2040 drought the flow of the Potomac River could drop below the environmental flow guideline of 100 million gallons per day (mgd) to prevent water supply failure even after using all the reservoirs to supplement flow and implementing water use restrictions.

Opposition to constructing reservoirs the late 1970s, lead to the research at Johns Hopkins University that developed the cooperative water management system used today for the Potomac. This research indicated that the management of Jennings Randolph Reservoir in coordination with the existing Occoquan and Patuxent reservoirs could meet the region’s projected demand and maintain adequate flow in the Potomac River through about 2020. That proved a successful plan, but it will not carry the region indefinitely. ICPRB recommends that it is time to beginning planning additional water storage facilities now before they are needed.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

We Need Sustainable Groundwater Use in Virginia

USGS  2010

According to the U.S. Geological Survey estimates for 2010 Virginia uses 299 million gallons of groundwater each and every day which is about 20% of all fresh water consumed daily in Virginia (this excludes use for thermal electric power generation). Of this groundwater use the three largest categories of use are public supply groundwater wells (71 million gallons a day), private/rural water wells (124 million gallons a day) and self-supplied industrial wells (74 million gallons a day) Domestic water use includes indoor and outdoor use at homes and apartments in Virginia for drinking, food preparation, washing clothes and dishes, bathing and flushing toilets. Common outdoor uses are watering lawns and gardens or maintaining pools or landscape features at your home. Domestic water is either self-supplied or provided by public water companies. Industrial use would be manufacturing sites including paper mills, printing companies, breweries and wineries. Public supply water wells supply community domestic and commercial needs like churches, schools and offices.

According to the USGS data, the 124 million gallons a day of self-supplied domestic water from private wells provides 1,650,000 Virginians or 21% of the population of the Commonwealth with their water. These rural or semi-rural wells are drilled in rural or semi-rural locations throughout Virginia. Nationally only about 14% of domestic water is from private wells. The typical Virginian uses 75 gallons of water a day for all domestic uses and is the same for public supplies households as well as households supplied by private well. In most states, households on private well use less water than those on public water supplies.

Despite being a very rural state, less than 3% of fresh water withdrawn from rivers, streams, and groundwater is used for agriculture. It rains in Virginia and only 1.4% of fresh water is used for irrigation which includes water for crop irrigation, frost protection, application of chemicals, weed control, field preparation, crop cooling, harvesting, dust suppression, as well as watering of golf courses, parks, nurseries, turf farms, cemeteries, and landscape-watering for businesses and public buildings.

At one firth of the total water supply groundwater is an important component of the water supply. Sustainable groundwater use in Virginia is not tracked or managed by DEQ or any other agency for that matter. Groundwater is not unlimited. Our groundwater is at risk. Despite the water rich climate of our region, the Atlantic Coastal Plain aquifer is under stress and is being used beyond it recharge rate. This has been confirmed by measurements of groundwater levels, modeling of the aquifer system by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and measurements of changes in gravity by the GRACE satellite project at NASA over the past 12 years of data collecting.

The rate of groundwater withdrawal from the Virginia Coastal Plain is currently unsustainable. The withdrawal rate of groundwater increased continuously during the 20th century. By the 2003 the withdrawal rates from Coastal Plain aquifers in Virginia totaled approximately 117 million gallons per day (DEQ). As a result, groundwater levels have declined by as much as 200 feet near the large withdrawal centers of West Point and Franklin, Virginia the home of paper mills that are large industrial users of groundwater. The water level has continued to fall despite the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VA DEQ) attempting to regulate groundwater withdrawals in the Virginia Coastal Plain through the VA DEQ Groundwater Withdrawal Permit Program over the past 12 years. To make that groundwater sustainable, we need to reduce use or increase recharge otherwise Virginia will find that areas within the historic boundary of the aquifer begin to go dry. In order to prevent this first Virginia needs to know how much groundwater there is and what is sustainable use is. Groundwater resources are property and should be protected for all property owners.

Less is known about the sustainability of the smaller groundwater basins in the region, but their problems are still at a more manageable stage. Our own Culpeper Basin that feeds the private wells in the Rural Crescent of Prince William and areas of Loudoun and Fauquier counties as well as areas beyond our region. We now have tools (groundwater models and data from the GRACE project) that can help develop a picture of the volume of the water within the groundwater basin and at what rate it is being used and at what rate it is being recharged. We need to know if the current and planned use of our groundwater is sustainable even in drought years. An understanding of the impact on our essential water resources from ground cover by roads and buildings impacting recharge to proposed water withdrawals can be used to determine if a proposed additional use of groundwater is sustainable before it is granted.

How any proposed land use, or business or building impact water and groundwater sustainability should be one of the first questions asked. The right of existing property owners to their water is primary and valuable and should not be compromised or impaired to generate profits for others by the taking of their rights to their water. Because there are natural fluctuations in groundwater levels it is easy to mask or ignore signs of the beginnings of destruction of the water resources that we depend on. The USGS has been smoothing the water level data from at least one well in our region to eliminate what appeared to be an anomaly, but instead may be the first indications of a problem. Fluctuations in climate or rainfall and imperfect measurements and vantage points mask trends from clear view.

How the resource is owned or not owned can potentially create a resource abusive atmosphere where taking what I can without regard for sustainability is rewarded for a period of time. No groundwater resource is infinite and we need to preserve and protect our groundwater which belongs to all the landowners by recognizing its value, that it is property and by using it sustainably. The permitting process for zoning changes and building permits for large users of groundwater needs to examine and consider the impact on and sustainable use of groundwater resources in that area. The rights to groundwater need to be quantified, so they can be protected.