Groundwater reductions proposed

Published 9:04 pm Thursday, October 22, 2015

An idea that came about through the Western Tidewater Water Authority could eventually affect groundwater permitting statewide.

Currently, localities and industries that draw more than 300,000 gallons of groundwater per month must obtain a permit through the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.

However, the permits are good for only 10 years before they must be renewed, which presents a problem, because infrastructure for drawing and treating groundwater typically is financed for at least 30 years, city Utilities Director Al Moor told City Council members during a Wednesday work session.

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Meanwhile, the DEQ is pushing Virginia’s groundwater users to cut down on the amount of groundwater they are permitted to draw. The Western Tidewater Water Authority holds one of the 14 largest groundwater permits in the Eastern Virginia Groundwater Management Area, which includes everything east of Interstate 95. The other users include municipalities, a couple of paper mills and Smithfield Packing.

The Western Tidewater Water Authority is permitted to draw 8.34 million gallons per day but draws only about 3.51 million gallons per day, Moor said.

“Groundwater levels are decreasing,” Moor said. “The sustainability of this is key. We have a vested interest in this so we can use it in the future.”

DEQ has announced its intent to reduce permitted amounts for permits currently in the renewal process, which includes the local water authority.

The local water authority’s permit, for example, might go down to 3.5 to 3.9 million gallons per day, which is close to what it currently uses.

“It does not get into actual usage at this time,” Moor said. “It does get into their planned growth supply.”

Moor said the Western Tidewater Water Authority has proposed a voluntary incentive program through which permit holders would decrease the amount of water they are permitted to draw in exchange for a longer permitting period. The Western Tidewater Water Authority has alternative sources of water in addition to its groundwater permit, Moor noted.

DEQ gets an early buy-in on the reductions, Moor added. Permit holders who don’t opt in would go through the regular permitting process.

“This concept is gaining traction,” Moor said.

The program would require General Assembly action, so Moor has recommended the city place the topic on its 2016 legislative agenda.