RD390 - Status of Virginia’s Water Resources: A Report on Virginia’s Water Resources Management Activities – October 2020

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 2019 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 is expected to 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, identified potential areas of water availability concern within the state as well as challenges for future water resources management and recommendations for action. An update on several of these challenges is provided in Chapter 4 of this report. In 2019, DEQ began development of the 2020 State Plan. This included significant organization and review of data, as well as development of new and improved systems and techniques to support existing cumulative impact modeling. The 2020 State Plan as a whole will build upon the 2015 State Plan with significant refinement of nearly every aspect of the original including: updated water demand projections and water withdrawal/discharge data, improved spatial information on withdrawals and discharges, more robust cumulative impact analysis modeling, and three climate change scenarios. Additionally, each major river basin has been further subdivided into minor basins for modeling and analysis purposes, with the end result being a higher resolution product that will provide a more detailed and localized picture across the Commonwealth. These analyses will provide a wealth of information that can be utilized by localities, water users, and the state for future planning and management decisions.

Data analysis conducted during the 2020 State Plan development predicts a net increase of approximately 20% in daily water demands between 2020 and 2040. This highlights the importance of evaluating water supply statewide and determining where current supplies may be insufficient, one of the major objectives of the State Plan. The next step in the State Plan development process is conducting outreach to stakeholders to solicit input on other content that may be beneficial in informing future planning processes. In 2023, new local and regional Water Supply Plans are required to be submitted. The State Plan will provide a critical resource to support these efforts, allowing planning decisions to be based on a public repository of the most current water use data, water use projections, and state of the art resource modeling evaluations for both surface water and groundwater within Virginia.

Coastal Plain Aquifer Systems

DEQ continues to work with permitted groundwater withdrawal facilities within the Eastern Virginia and Eastern Shore Groundwater Management Areas to decrease withdrawals, increase system efficiencies, 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 fifty years and beyond. Nevertheless the capacity to issue or reissue permits in some areas of the Coastal Plain, particularly around large industrial or municipal withdrawals, remains limited. 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. Many of the largest groundwater users have recently made significant reductions in their permit limits as they work towards available alternatives. However, as population grows throughout the Commonwealth each year, new demands are added to the aquifer systems in turn. In particular, individual private self-supplied groundwater withdrawals that are largely unpermitted continue to grow and potentially offset the progress made in reducing permitted groundwater withdrawals. It is critical to continue efforts to address these and other unpermitted groundwater withdrawals, as well as to promote and incentivize alternatives, including lower quality groundwater from shallow or unconfined aquifers, through a variety of means. The efforts DEQ is making in these areas are covered in more detail in Chapter 4 of this report. However several examples are discussed in brief in this section.

One of the first hurdles to addressing unpermitted withdrawals is the identification of them. DEQ continued its ongoing efforts to identify, permit, or register unpermitted groundwater withdrawals in 2019. Staff reviewed permit applications for a number of unpermitted groundwater users originally identified through a 2017 outreach initiative. This included 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 facilities. The CSOs provided temporary authorization to withdraw groundwater 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 permits were approved by the State Water Control Board for 45 of the original 56 facilities in December, 2019. The remaining facilities were determined to be operating below the permit threshold requirement or to have discontinued operation. DEQ continues to process applications from several other facilities identified during these outreach efforts, including schools, universities, and crop irrigation facilities.

Evaluating the use of lower quality groundwater from shallow aquifers or the unconfined surficial aquifer (commonly known as the water table) in lieu of higher quality groundwater from confined aquifers remains a key requirement in any application for a Groundwater Withdrawal Permit. In many areas of the Commonwealth, the surficial aquifer can provide a viable alternative and due to its higher recharge rate is less susceptible to overuse. DEQ is currently working to implement two pieces of legislation enacted following the 2019 and 2020 General Assembly sessions which are intended to increase use of the surficial aquifer (2019 Va. Acts Ch. 755 and 2020 Va. Acts Ch. 670). See Chapter 4 for more details on these bills.

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) project proposes to reverse groundwater declines through direct injection of highly treated water into the Potomac Aquifer. As of summer of 2020, the SWIFT water treatment project has successfully injected 328 million gallons of treated water into the Potomac Aquifer, with plans to expand the project by constructing additional injection facilities. 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. DEQ continues to consult with and support HRSD; the pursuit of this project and others like it is another key recommendation made by the Eastern Virginia Groundwater Management Advisory Committee.

Water Withdrawals

In calendar year 2019, 1,249 facilities reported water withdrawals. The total volume of reported withdrawals from all water use categories (including fossil-fuel and nuclear power generation) was approximately 5.72 billion gallons. When excluding withdrawals for power generation, the total volume of reported withdrawals was approximately 1.23 billion gallons per day, a decrease of approximately 0.4% when compared to the five-year average. Note that withdrawals associated with power generation are often excluded throughout this report as they are largely non-consumptive (the withdrawal is discharged back to the same source at near the same quantity). Nuclear and fossil fuel power plants make up the majority of users within this category, and are addressed separately in the Power Generation section in Appendix 4.

Surface water withdrawals accounted for approximately 89% of total withdrawal volumes in 2019 (excluding withdrawals for power generation), which is consistent with the proportion of reported use over the previous five years. Public water supply was the largest use type of surface water withdrawals with 727.31 MGD withdrawn. Irrigation facilities reported the largest increase (5.5%) in surface water withdrawal reporting when compared to the five-year average. 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 declined when compared to the five-year average, decreasing by 1%.

Groundwater withdrawals accounted for approximately 11% of total withdrawal volumes in 2019 with 139.26 MGD withdrawn. Manufacturing & industrial uses continued to report the largest total withdrawal of groundwater statewide in 2019 (57.73 MGD), an 1.8% increase compared to the five-year average. In 2019, groundwater withdrawals for agricultural uses showed the largest reported increase of any category, with a 56.2% increase in groundwater withdrawals compared to the five-year average. This is largely the result of the increased reporting from poultry operations on the Eastern Shore discussed above. Analysis of the spatial distribution of 2019 groundwater withdrawals show the largest groundwater withdrawals by volume occurred in the Coastal Plain and along the Valley and Ridge, particularly in the Shenandoah Valley and Giles County. Total reported groundwater withdrawals increased by approximately 3.9% compared to the five-year average, largely driven by the increases in reporting from newly permitted agricultural facilities on the Eastern Shore.

In 2019, unpermitted withdrawals represented approximately 72% of the total reported withdrawals in Virginia. The majority of reported groundwater withdrawals (52%) are from users operating under a Ground­water Withdrawal Permit. This is consistent with the 2018 result but represents an increase of 8% from the percentage of total groundwater withdrawals originating from permitted users in 2016 (44%). Approx­imately 75% of the total surface water withdrawn in Virginia is associated with unpermitted users, which has remained largely consistent across reporting years.