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DEQ Proposes Groundwater Permit Cuts

DEQ Proposes Groundwater Permit Cuts

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has proposed cuts to the fourteen largest permitted groundwater users in the Eastern Groundwater Management Area. DEQ is not proposing to rescind anyone’s permit but recommends reducing the amount of groundwater that each permit holder is allowed to withdraw. The fourteen permit holders are shown in the attached map. There are six private companies and eight municipal water systems.

Map of 14 Largest Permitted Groundwater UsersThe permitting program for groundwater withdrawals was intended to protect everyone that has a permit by limiting withdrawal to a sustainable level. Ideally, the regulations and associated with the permits should ensure a reliable water supply and minimize conflicts between users.

DEQ's decisions on permits rely heavily on using a model to simulate the impacts of proposed withdrawals. Until this year, DEQ was using the RASA model created in 1990s. The model wasn't accurate enough to simulate long-term water level declines throughout the groundwater system. The errors in the model led to the current situation in which DEQ is concerned that the system is over allocated.

DEQ's concerns are based on a new groundwater model and water level measurements from monitoring wells across the system. HRPDC funded USGS's development of the new model. It is much more accurate than the old model. It shows that the total amount of withdrawals currently permitted would cause water levels to drop below the management criteria in the regulations. The water level measurements generally show declining water levels for more than a decade. However, several measurements near Franklin show a recent rebound in water levels because the paper mill reduced pumping from 33 to 9 million gallons per day between 2010 and 2012.

DEQ has proposed specific permit reductions for each permit holder shown in the table. The permits above the red line would be cut below current use. The proposed cut to permits below the red line do not impact current use but reduce capacity for growth and economic development.  Many of the municipal systems also have surface water sources which may have capacity to meet future demands. The chart does not include any data on surface water supplies.

Table of Groundwater Permits, Current and Proposed  Withdrawals

Four permit holders have already agreed to reduced permitted withdrawals (reductions included in table): Colonial Williamsburg, City of Norfolk, Smithfield Packing, and the Town of Smithfield. DEQ would like to issue permits to the other ten permit holders by September 2015.