Virginia is dependent on groundwater. According to information from Virginia Tech, the Rural Household Water Quality program and the National Groundwater Association approximately 30% of Virginians are entirely dependent on groundwater for their drinking water. While groundwater is ubiquitous in Virginia it is not unlimited. There are already problems with availability, quality and sustainability of groundwater in Virginia in places such as Fauquier County, Loudoun County and the Coastal Plain.
In addition, there is new information that was not previously available. Using their GRACE and GLDAS satellites, NASA can now measure ground water depletion from space, and the news is not good. Over the ten years (2003-2013) all of Virginia’s groundwater aquifers were determined to be under stress- using groundwater faster than it was being recharged. In other words we are using up our groundwater and unless we manage the use and recharge of groundwater better, some day we will run out.
An example of a problem of groundwater availability is in Marshall, where the Fauquier Water and Sanitation Authority (FCWSA) reported a 40 to 60 foot drop in the water levels over the past four years. Diminished water supply has left the town with inadequate water pressure. FCWSA and Fauquier County have invested more than$100 million in water wells, pipes and equipment yet they failed to identify the groundwater recharge areas for the wells and manage their groundwater. They have arrived at the point of not having enough water for Marshall today, let alone supply water for growth. Fauquier has engaged a detailed study designed by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and spearheaded by the USGS and Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) at a cost of $500,000 to understand available water resources to develop and manage the County’s water supply.
A recent example of a groundwater quality problem came in 2010 when total coliform and E. coli bacteria was found in the groundwater from one of the Raspberry Falls community supply water wells. That well was taken out of service and replaced at a cost of $1 million. 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 in those wells. The three remaining wells were inadequate to meet the needs of the communities. Now Loudoun Water is funding the capital costs of a new water treatment system through its general fund ($10-$12 million). The Loudoun Water general fund will be replenished over time through user rate payments collected from all their customers.
Virginia’s Coastal Plain aquifer is a major example of a groundwater sustainability problem. As reported by DEQ, groundwater levels have declined by as much as 200 feet near West Point and Franklin, Virginia. According to the NASA data, Virginia’s Potomac aquifer is under particular stress. It is only a matter of time until areas within the historic boundary of the aquifer begin to go dry and subside. Despite attempts by the DEQ to manage new uses of groundwater Under the Ground Water Management Act of 1992, groundwater levels have continued to fall in the two management areas.
Virginia manages groundwater through regulating withdrawals of groundwater in the Groundwater Management Areas. Currently, there are two Groundwater Management Areas in the state. The groundwater management areas appear in green and yellow on the map. Any person or entity located within a declared groundwater management area must obtain a permit to withdraw 300,000 gallons or more of groundwater in a month. DEQ has not identified the sustainable level of groundwater use in the management areas. As a result the program has been unsuccessful in reducing groundwater withdrawals to sustainable rates.
For these reasons it is now necessary to try managing availability, quality and sustainability of groundwater by the local communities themselves. The people need to understand where their water comes from and how development and use impact water availability, quality and sustainability . I suggest that the comprehensive plans prepared by the counties be used to consider the availability, quality and sustainability of groundwater resources to promote the health and well-being of the 2.45 million Virginia residents who are dependent on groundwater for of their water needs. The availability, quality and sustainability of groundwater needs to be managed and protected on a local level.