RD347 - Status of Virginia’s Water Resources: A Report on Virginia’s Water Resources Management Activities – October 2018

Executive Summary:

The Report on Virginia’s Water Resources Management Activities (Annual Report) 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 focuses on water quantity and supply, summarizing reported water withdrawals for the 2017 calendar year, discussing water withdrawal trends, and providing an update on the Commonwealth’s water resources management activities. The Annual Report also serves as a status report concerning the State Water Resources Plan between five year planning reviews.

Water quality issues are addressed in the most recent biennial Water Quality Assessment Integrated Report, published by the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).

The State Water Resources Plan (SWRP) was finalized and released to the public in October 2015. The SWRP identified some potential areas of concern as well as challenges for future water resources management and recommendations for action.

Data analysis conducted during development of the SWRP predicted a net increase of approximately 32% in mean daily water demand over the planning period, indicating that an estimated 450 million gallons per day (MGD) of additional water will be needed to meet projected 2040 demands. SWRP-related activities conducted during 2017 focused on facilitation of the five-year review of the local and regional water supply plans that are required by the Local and Regional Water Supply Planning Regulation (9VAC25-780) . Facilitation of the plan reviews is aimed at achieving the best possible revised estimates of projected future water demands. To assist in this effort, DEQ initiated a pilot project in 2017 to test a new Water Supply Planning module in the VaHydro water availability modeling and analysis tool in order to receive stakeholder feedback prior to a statewide release of the module. These efforts are also initial steps to address Recommendations 2 and 3 in the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission’s (JLARC) October 2016 report titled “Effectiveness of Virginia’s Water Resource Planning and Management" concerning surface water sustainability.

Cumulative impact analyses conducted during preparation of the SWRP indicated that projected surface water withdrawal increases may result in negative impacts during future drought situations, particularly within the James, Potomac-Shenandoah, and York River basins. These areas were prioritized for outreach and planning discussions regarding required five-year reviews which are due in December 2018. As of September 5, 2018, 183 localities (17 cities, 38 counties, and 128 towns) have completed the required five-year reviews for their water supply plans. There are 323 localities in Virginia: 38 cities, 95 counties, and 190 towns, all of which are required to have water supply plans, or to participate in a regional water supply plan.

The SWRP also identified gaps in water-withdrawal reporting as a challenge for water resource management. Efforts during 2017 to address this challenge focused on improving reporting by the agricultural sector, resulting in eight additional farm facilities registered through DEQ’s outreach efforts. Additional information is obtained through the private water well registration program, which enables DEQ and Virginia Department of Health (VDH) to receive water well completion reports. As of December 31, 2017, 4,173 water well completion records were submitted online via VA Hydro.

While the Virginia Coastal Plain Groundwater Initiative has been successful in reducing permitted withdrawals from the coastal plain aquifer system by about 50%, these reductions alone are not sufficient to ensure the availability of the aquifer system as a reliable water source for the future. To maintain the gains made through these reductions, new or expanding withdrawals from the Potomac Aquifer must also be limited. In all cases, groundwater withdrawal permit applicants seeking a withdrawal from confined coastal plain aquifers must supply a significant rationale supporting the necessity of the use of high-quality groundwater over other available sources such as surface water, re-use, or lower-quality groundwater from the surficial aquifer.

However, reductions are not the only method to address the resource issue. The Hampton Roads Sanitation District (HRSD) is currently working to reverse groundwater declines through direct injection of highly-treated water into the Potomac Aquifer. HRSD’s Sustainable Water Initiative for Tomorrow (SWIFT) project seeks to eventually inject up to 120 MGD via injection sites across the HRSD service area. A pilot test is currently underway at the SWIFT Research Center where 1 MGD is being treated and injected. However, the ultimate benefits of large-scale injection may not be known for a decade or more.

DEQ is continuing to work with permitted groundwater withdrawal facilities to decrease net withdrawals, to identify alternate sources of water, and to investigate other innovative ways to increase supplies in order to maintain groundwater productivity and availability over the next 50 years and beyond.

In 2017, DEQ began a Compliance Assistance Framework outreach initiative designed to assist unpermitted groundwater users in the Groundwater Management Areas (GWMAs) to determine if a groundwater withdrawal permit is required and to begin the permitting process as necessary. As a result of this initiative, DEQ received 38 applications during 2017 and early 2018 from unpermitted groundwater users seeking to obtain groundwater withdrawal permits. This group includes a large number of poultry farms on the Eastern Shore with whom DEQ began a separate effort that will ultimately result in bringing additional unpermitted poultry facilities into compliance with the Groundwater Withdrawal Regulations (9VAC25-610).

The Eastern Virginia Groundwater Management Advisory Committee, established pursuant to § 62.1-256.1 of the Code of Virginia, 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," held meetings during March, April, May, June, and July 2017. The committee presented its recommendations to the State Water Commission and the DEQ Director on August 4, 2017. The DEQ Director issued a report responding to the Committee’s recommendations on November 1, 2017 pursuant to § 62.1-256.1(C) of the Code of Virginia. Information about the activities of the Committee is posted on the DEQ Eastern Virginia Groundwater Management Advisory Committee webpage. To address these recommendations, DEQ is continuing its efforts to reach out to unpermitted agricultural facilities regarding their water withdrawals. DEQ has also begun development of a methodology to coordinate and conduct technical evaluations of withdrawals from private wells proposed by certain large subdivisions in GWMAs pursuant to § 62.1-259.1 of the Code of Virginia (2018 Va. Acts Ch. 427).

On Tuesday, October 17, 2017, DEQ held its first groundwater stakeholder forum in Richmond, Virginia. At this meeting DEQ presented the results of its 2016-2017 simulation of groundwater surface elevations of reported use and total permitted use for the Eastern Virginia and Eastern Shore Groundwater Management Areas. DEQ also presented information on recent updates to its Virginia Coastal Plain and Virginia Eastern Shore Groundwater Models. Finally, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) presented information on its ongoing efforts to update the existing hydrogeologic framework and conditions of the Eastern Shore aquifer system. The 2018 groundwater stakeholder forum is tentatively scheduled for Tuesday, October 30, 2018 in Richmond, Virginia.

Water withdrawals were reported in January 2018 by 1,624 facilities for calendar year 2017. Compared to the recent five-year (2013-2017) average, the total volume of reported withdrawals from all water use categories (including fossil-fuel and nuclear power generation) decreased by approximately 7%. However, the total volume of reported withdrawals increased by 3% excluding the power generation use categories.

Surface water withdrawals had a higher proportion of the total water withdrawal volume by source type in 2017, which is comparable to 2013 through 2017. Surface water withdrawals also accounted for approximately 90% of total withdrawal volumes in 2017 (excluding withdrawals for power generation), which is equivalent to the five previous years.

Analysis of the spatial distribution of 2017 water withdrawals in Virginia indicates that, as in previous years, the largest groundwater withdrawals by volume predominantly occurred in the Coastal Plain, Eastern Shore, and Shenandoah Valley regions.

Withdrawals for Public Water Supply and for Manufacturing were again the largest sources of withdrawals for 2017 and for the average of the previous five-year period. Manufacturing makes up the highest proportion of groundwater withdrawals, whereas public water supply use accounts for the greatest proportion surface water withdrawals by volume.