RD276 - Status of Virginia's Water Resources: A Report on Virginia's Water Resources Management Activities (2015) - October 2015

Executive Summary:
The Report on Virginia’s Water Resources Management Activities, is submitted in October of each year to the Governor and the Virginia General Assembly in accordance with § 62.1-44.40 of the Code of Virginia. The Annual Report describes the status of the state’s surface and groundwater resources and provides an update of the Commonwealth’s water resources management activities. Water quantity is the focus of the Annual Report, summarizing reported water withdrawals for the 2014 calendar year and providing an update on the Commonwealth’s Water Resources Management Program. The Annual Report also includes summaries of current climatologic conditions and available hydrologic information for the Commonwealth during the 2015 water year.(*1) Water quality issues are addressed in the most recent biennial Water Quality Assessment Integrated Report, published by the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).

The citizens of the Commonwealth are able to enjoy access to 100,923 miles of non-tidal streams and rivers, 248 publicly-owned lakes, 236,900 acres of tidal and coastal wetlands, 808,000 acres of freshwater wetlands, 120 miles of Atlantic Ocean coastline, and more than 2,300 square miles of estuaries. The publicly-owned lakes alone have a combined surface area of 162,000 acres, and there are hundreds of small, privately-owned lakes and ponds distributed throughout the state. Statewide, rainfall averages are close to 43 inches per year, and the total combined flow of all freshwater streams is estimated at about 22.5 billion gallons per day.

After a relatively dry winter, precipitation during the 2015 water year was generally normal to above normal across most of Virginia. Streamflows and groundwater levels in Climate Response Network observation wells were at normal or near normal levels during most of the spring and early summer months. Water supply storage reservoirs maintained water levels within or above normal ranges throughout most of the year. However, dry conditions that developed during the winter in portions of the Roanoke River basin and parts of central and eastern Virginia worsened during July through September. DEQ issued a Drought Watch declaration for the Virginia portion of the Roanoke River basin on September 15, 2015 (Appendix 1).

The DEQ Division of Water Planning, Office of Water Supply, coordinates the management of the quantity of water resources across the Commonwealth of Virginia through six programs: Groundwater Characterization, Water Supply Planning, Water Withdrawal Reporting, Groundwater Withdrawal Permitting, Virginia Water Protection Surface Water Withdrawal Permitting, and Drought Assessment and Response. Additional information can be found at Water Supply and Quantity on the DEQ webpage. The following are programmatic highlights during 2014:

• The Virginia Coastal Plain Groundwater Initiative was developed in response to the ongoing and long-term decline of groundwater levels, head loss, and growing concerns of land subsidence and salt water intrusion into the Coastal Plain confined aquifer system. In order to achieve the goal of protecting the aquifer system and providing for current and future water needs for the Commonwealth, DEQ identified and has begun discussions with the top 14 groundwater users about potential reductions in water withdrawals, which, if implemented could begin stabilizing the groundwater level declines in the aquifer. Stabilization cannot be achieved without withdrawal reductions, which in turn, will lay the foundation for long-term solutions.

• The State Water Resources Plan(*2) was developed with information and data submitted in local and regional water supply plans.(*3) In addition to local data, the Plan incorporates water withdrawal data submitted to the Virginia Water Use Data System through the Water Withdrawal Reporting program and contains the results of a cumulative impact assessment that will form the basis for staff activities for the next five years. During 2014, staff finalized the challenges and recommendations chapter and prepared the document for public comment.

•·Efforts to continuously improve the clarity, predictability, and output of surface water withdrawal permitting were undertaken. A Citizen Advisory Group was established to work with staff on proposed revisions to the surface water portion of the Virginia Water Protection program regulations.(*4) Revisions were necessary to clarify and streamline materials required by the Joint Permit Application and to address several statutory changes. Those proposed changes to the regulation are continuing through the regulatory development process.

•·The Ambient Groundwater Quality Program was fully implemented, resulting in the collection of 30 trend and spot samples at wells and springs throughout the Commonwealth. Program implementation involves quarterly sampling of trend wells to monitor for salt water “upconing,” or intrusion, and to document chloride concentrations in portions of the Coastal Plain aquifer system that may be vulnerable to upward migration of the fresh water/salt water interface. Spot sampling is done to document the groundwater quality in areas where groundwater geochemical data are limited or non-existent.

•·Upgrades to VAHydroGW, the DEQ groundwater databases, were implemented to automatically generate groundwater model input files for analysis of new groundwater withdrawal permit applications and renewals. These enhancements have improved the timeliness of permit issuance and set the stage for completion of automatic generation of annual total permitted and current use model input decks in 2015-2016.

•·Efforts to improve water withdrawal reporting within the golf course and agricultural communities were initiated. Development and implementation of the golf course outreach strategy resulted in approximately 120 new facility registrations for which water withdrawal data collection during the 2015 calendar year is anticipated. The agricultural outreach strategy was developed during 2014 and will begin implementation during 2015. Outreach to other water use categories, including but not limited to nurseries, sod farms, public and private educational institutions, and vineyards will be conducted over the next couple of years.

•·An initiative to develop and implement consistent compliance practices for both surface water and groundwater withdrawal permitting was undertaken, beginning with a compliance and file review of all active surface water withdrawal permits.

•·An ongoing effort by DEQ and Virginia Department of Health staff to work more closely together and improve information sharing between the agencies resulted in the combination of the separate well completion forms previously required: DEQ’s GW-2 and VDH’s Uniform Well Completion Report. The combined form allows well drillers to submit well completion documentation on a single form to be used by both agencies, ensuring that data captured by either agency can be used equally.

• Also of note is the Eastern Virginia Groundwater Management Advisory Committee, established pursuant to Va. Code § 62.1-256.1, to assist the State Water Commission and DEQ in “developing, revising, and implementing a management strategy for groundwater in the Eastern Virginia Groundwater Management Area.” The group convened its first meeting on August 18, 2015 and is due to present its recommendations to the State Water Commission and the DEQ Director no later than August 1, 2017. A summary of the activities of the Committee will be included in the next Annual Water Resources Report.
(*1) The U.S. Geological Survey uses the term "water year" in reports that deal with surface-water supply, defining it as the 12-month period of October 1, for any given year through September 30, of the following year. The water year is designated by the calendar year in which it ends and which includes 9 of the 12 months. Thus, the year ending September 30, 2015 is called the "2015 water year."

(*2) 9VAC 25-780-140.I.

(*3) 9VAC25-780, et seq.

(*4) 9VAC25-210, et seq.