RD416 - Status of Virginia’s Water Resources – A Report on Virginia’s Water Resources Management Activities – October 2019

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 2018 calendar year, identifying water withdrawal trends, and providing an update on the Commonwealth's water resources management activities. The Annual Report also serves as a status report on activities associated with the State Water Resources Plan between five year updates. The next State Water Resources Plan will be published in 2020.

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

State Water Resources Plan

The State Water Resources Plan (State Plan), finalized and released to the public in October 2015, identifies potential areas of water availability concern within the state as well as challenges for future water resources management and recommendations for action. The 2020 State Water Resources Plan Update is currently under development.

Data analysis conducted for the 2015 State Plan predicts 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 supply will be needed to meet projected 2040 water demands. State Plan related activities conducted by DEQ during 2018 focused on facilitating the five-year review of the local and regional water supply plans, as required by the Local and Regional Water Supply Planning Regulation (9VAC25-780). Localities across the state used the VA Hydro database's Water Supply Planning module to meet their five-year plan review requirements and deadlines. Localities use VA Hydro to edit, analyze, and submit their water supply plan data in near real time. As of January 2019, all 323 localities (38 cities, 95 counties, and 190 towns) in Virginia successfully completed the required five-year review and submitted all data required under the Local and Regional Water Supply Planning Regulation.

The 2015 State Plan also identifies gaps in water withdrawal reporting as a challenge for water resources management. In 2018, three farms, one data center, and one public water system were newly registered to report their water withdrawals. Additional information is obtained through the private water well registration program, which enables DEQ and the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) to receive water well completion reports as wells are constructed inside of the Groundwater Management Areas. As of July 2019, over 6,374 water well completion reports have been submitted online to VA Hydro, including an additional 1,520 wells added in 2018.

Coastal Plain Aquifer Systems

Population growth and development throughout the Coastal Plain and the Eastern Shore add new demands on the aquifer systems annually. In particular, individual private self-supplied groundwater withdrawals continue to grow and represent an incremental loss in the progress made in reducing the largest permitted withdrawal. DEQ is working to address unpermitted groundwater withdrawals through a variety of means.

DEQ continues to evaluate opportunities to implement the Eastern Virginia Groundwater Management Advisory Committee's recommendations to address resources and unpermitted withdrawals. One of those recommendations supports the ongoing work to develop procedures to address new requirements pursuant to § 62.1-259.1 of the Code of Virginia (2018 Va. Acts Ch. 427), which requires developers of subdivisions with 30 or more plots with individual wells to complete a technical evaluation prior to plat approval. Developers must adhere to the well construction and source recommendations made by DEQ or they must record a mitigation plan in the subdivision plat. DEQ expects to publish guidance outlining the procedures for the technical evaluation process by the end of 2019. That effort will require outreach to localities within the groundwater management areas. There were no requests for technical evaluations in 2018.

DEQ continued its ongoing efforts to identify, permit, or register unpermitted groundwater withdrawals in 2018. Staff reviewed permit applications for a number of unpermitted groundwater users originally identified through the 2017 Compliance Assistance Framework outreach initiative. This includes a group of 56 poultry facilities in Accomack County. In 2018, the State Water Control Board (SWCB) approved Consent Special Orders (CSOs) for these 56 poultry farms. The CSOs provide temporary authorization to withdraw while requiring the submission of a groundwater withdrawal permit application, metering, and reporting of water use. Throughout 2019, DEQ worked with these facilities to complete the permitting process and 44 of the original 56 are moving forward with draft permits. The draft permits will be reviewed by the State Water Control Board by the end of 2019.

DEQ continues to work with permitted groundwater withdrawal facilities to decrease net withdrawals, increase efficiency, 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. Groundwater availability in some areas of the Coastal Plain, particularly around large industrial or municipal withdrawals, leaves no excess supply, which limits the ability for DEQ to issue permits. New or expanding withdrawals from the Potomac Aquifer must also be limited; recent permit reductions were made by DEQ to improve long-term groundwater availability. In all cases, permit applicants seeking a groundwater withdrawal from confined coastal plain aquifers must justify their need for high-quality groundwater over other available alternative sources such as surface water, reuse, or lower-quality groundwater from other aquifers, including the surficial aquifer.

Groundwater withdrawal reductions are not the only method to address the resource issue. The Hampton Roads Sanitation District's (HRSD) Sustainable Water Initiative for Tomorrow (SWIFT) continues working to reverse groundwater declines through direct injection of highly treated water into the Potomac Aquifer. As of May 2019, SWIFT has successfully injected 100 million gallons of treated water into the Potomac Aquifer, at its pilot facility in Nansemond. Going forward HRSD aims to develop additional facilities through 2030 to increase the recharge capacity to 100 MGD. However, as the project is still in the pilot phase, the ultimate benefits of large-scale injection may not be known for a decade or more.

Water Withdrawals

In calendar year 2018, 1,605 facilities reported water withdrawals. Compared to the recent five-year (2014-2018) average, the total volume of reported withdrawals from all water use categories (including fossil-fuel and nuclear power generation) was approximately 5.9 billion gallons, an approximately 8% decrease compared to the five-year average. When excluding withdrawals for power generation, the total volume of reported withdrawals was approximately 1.24 billion gallons, an increase of approximately 1% when compared to the five-year average.

Surface water withdrawals accounted for approximately 89% of total withdrawal volumes in 2018 (excluding withdrawals for power generation), which is similar to the previous five years. Public water supply was the largest use type for surface water withdrawals at 719.5 MGD. Mining facilities reported the largest increase (18%) in surface water withdrawal reporting when compared to the five-year average. Analysis of the spatial distribution of 2018 surface water withdrawals show that the largest surface water withdrawals by volume occurred within the Richmond, Hampton Roads, and Washington D.C. metro areas, and within Giles County. Total reported surface water withdrawals remained consistent with the five-year average, increasing by less than .1%.

Groundwater withdrawals accounted for approximately 11% of total withdrawal volumes in 2018 at 142 MGD. Manufacturing continued to be the largest use type of groundwater in 2018 at 59.46 MGD, around a 5% increase compared to the five-year average. Additionally in 2018, groundwater withdrawals for mining operations reported the highest withdrawals in five years at 18.04 MGD, a 16% increase compared to the five-year average. Analysis of the spatial distribution of 2018 groundwater withdrawals show the largest groundwater withdrawals by volume occurred in the Coastal Plain and along the Valley and Ridge, in particular the Shenandoah Valley and Giles County. Total reported groundwater withdrawals increased by approximately 7% compared to the five-year average of 132.3 MGD. Increased permitting and identification of unreported groundwater withdrawals across Virginia show increased demands placed on groundwater availability, especially in the Groundwater Management Areas.