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Future of Eastern Virginia Groundwater Management and Water Supply

Future of Eastern Virginia Groundwater Management and Water Supply

Map Depicting Potomac Aquifer Simulated Water Levels On Tuesday, October 24, 2017, the final report of the Eastern Virginia Groundwater Management Advisory Committee was presented to the State Water Commission. The Advisory Committee was established by the General Assembly in 2015 to assist the State Water Commission and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VDEQ) in developing, revising, and implementing a management strategy for groundwater in the Eastern Virginia Groundwater Management Area. 

The report included twelve recommendations which facilitator, Mark Rubin, presented on behalf of the Advisory Committee. Then David Paylor, director of VDEQ, presented the agency’s response to the report. Members of the State Water Commission raised several issues:

Should the Commission take any action to support HRSD’s SWIFT initiative, which is under EPA review and the primary alternate water source discussed in the report.

VDEQ felt there was no action needed at this time.

Did the Advisory Committee place an emphasis on meeting drinking water demands verses all demands including manufacturing?

After extensive discussion, the Advisory Committee did not reach consensus on prioritizing types of water demands and did not provide any recommendations, in contrast to the JLARC report recommendations on water resource management.   

What are the benefits of changing the permit term from 10 to 15 years? 

Permittees often finance wells and other infrastructure over 30 years so a longer permit term increases certainty for both water supply planning and financing. However, VDEQ has the ability to reopen permits at any time if they have reason to believe permit changes are needed to protect the resource.

What are the regulatory barriers that deter the use of ponds to supply agricultural irrigation needs?  And how can we improve the situation? 

VDEQ said the primary challenge is getting wetlands permits to create agricultural ponds and the permitting process may not be as difficult as it is perceived. Virginia would have more control of the process by assuming the permitting authority currently under the Army Corps of Engineers but it would be very expensive to take over that program.

How would you set initial groundwater allocations if Virginia created a trading program?  

The Advisory Committee identified that as a challenging issue. Mr. Rubin speculated that the allocations might be based on the same information provided in permit applications to establish need.

David Paylor’s presentation illustrated the impacts of reduced groundwater permit conditions that have been negotiated in the last two years.  Based on model simulations, in 50 years the water levels will drop below the Critical Surface (criteria that includes a safety factor to ensure the aquifer isn’t dewatered or damaged) in parts of Southampton and Sussex counties. However, these results are significantly better than the projected water level simulated at the 2015 permit limits, which allowed roughly twice as much groundwater to be withdrawn.

The groundwater permits for seven public water systems in Hampton Roads have been significantly reduced. The total raw water reductions equal 30 million gallons per day which is 22% of the total supply for those systems. Based on the 2011 Regional Water Supply Plan, Hampton Roads still has plenty of water to meet current demands. HRPDC is updating the projected water demands and will compare them to the reduced water supply to see how much water is available for growth.

Recommendations

Recommendation # 1: Committee recommends that SWIFT and similar projects, including storage, recovery, and recharge projects, be supported by the Commonwealth as a significant part of the set of solutions pursued to improve groundwater sustainability in the EVGMA, subject to appropriate public health and environmental conditions as determined by VDH and DEQ in coordination with HRSD and in light of federal requirements.

Recommendation # 2: Committee recommends that the Commonwealth promote the development of the list of alternative water sources and solutions included in this report, including solutions for public/private partnerships and potential funding for further evaluation and study of short-term and long-term alternative water sources and solutions.

Recommendation # 3: Committee recommends lengthening the maximum groundwater permit term to fifteen years by changing the statutory language in Virginia Code Section 62.1-266(C), while maintaining the ability for the State Water Control Board to reopen and amend current permits to take changing groundwater availability into account throughout the permit term under Virginia Code Section 62.1-266(E).

Recommendation # 4: Committee recommends that the General Assembly establish additional incentives for voluntary regional planning efforts that will proceed through Planning District Commissions working with DEQ.

Recommendation # 5: Committee recommends that the General Assembly create incentives for local governments and well owners to connect to the public surface water systems when reasonably available, with possible credits to localities to help lower connection fees or to provide low cost financing.

Recommendation # 6: Committee recommends that the General Assembly require new non-agricultural irrigation wells only from unconfined aquifers in the EVGMA where available and adequate.

Recommendation # 7: Committee encourages the General Assembly to develop a statement of regulatory intent to encourage the use of ponds and stormwater ponds and to work to remedy the regulatory barriers in the development of irrigation ponds for agricultural purposes.

Recommendation # 8: Committee recommends that DEQ, in cooperation with other agencies, establish an annual “State of the Water Resources” forum, open to the public, where all stakeholders are invited to discuss and learn about the status of the EVGMA’s water resources.

Recommendation # 9: Committee recommends that the General Assembly authorize DEQ to develop and implement a groundwater banking system.

Recommendation # 10: Committee recommends that the General Assembly direct DEQ with a timeline and resources to create a framework in consultation with stakeholders for an EVGMA groundwater trading program to be submitted to the General Assembly.

Recommendation # 11: Committee recommends that the General Assembly provide funding to ensure a robust groundwater management program because of the importance of groundwater resources in Eastern Virginia and the unsustainable rate of demand on the resource. The Committee believes that the following DEQ activities, at a minimum, should be provided sufficient funding to be implemented. At this time, the activities, in priority order, are: 1) Update unregulated use estimation methodology for use on an ongoing basis 2) Ensure ongoing model maintenance consistent with best professional practice 3) Address gaps in hydrologic framework and water level monitoring network 4) Provide operation and maintenance for Suffolk and Franklin extensometers 5) Ensure funding to perform ongoing existing well network repair and maintenance 6) Implement saltwater intrusion network 7) Install new extensometer near West Point

Recommendation # 12: Committee recommends that the General Assembly fund the essential operation costs of DEQ to successfully manage the groundwater resources, first through General Fund Appropriations, and second, if absolutely necessary, through a reasonable flat fee applied only to households and businesses in the EVGMA. If a fee is applied, the funding provided by the fee shall not result in any reduction of the general funds appropriated.

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