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Water Supply


Friday, January 27, 2012  by tday

“I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself;
but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it is unclean.” Romans 14:14.

Over the past hundred years, confined groundwater levels in Virginia’s Coastal Plain have declined at a rate that will recharge, if at all, only over thousands of years, and then only if the aquifers do not compress as a result of those withdrawals to preclude recharge.  At this Committee’s 2010 Conference on Our Threatened Water Supply, Frank Fletcher contended that a sustainable water supply requires a new water supply paradigm

To protect the aquifers in Virginia’s Coastal Plain, some Virginia water utilities have recently been injecting surface water into them after the water has been treated to drinking water standards. That recourse is better than none, but is not without its flaws. The chemicals used to treat the water injected into the aquifers interact with minerals in the confined aquifer layer, leaching radionuclides, arsenic, and other toxic elements which then must be removed before the drinkable water injected is again safe to drink. As one example, the City of Chesapeake, a Virginia pioneer in use of injection wells for aquifer storage and recovery has as a result invested in an additional treatment facility for the sole purpose of retreating for metal contamination withdrawn water that was treated and safe when injected.

Through some ingenious research, the social psychologist, Jonathan Haidt, has recently identified a previously unrecognized dimension of social cohesion, a dimension marked at one extreme by disgust, absolute revulsion, and at the other by a sense of elevation. Movement “upward” along the dimension is associated with feelings of uplift, enlightenment and awe -- the most powerful feelings of transcendence within reach of the human spirit. Most of us lead lives comfortably between these emotional poles, usually shielded from disgust and rarely experiencing peaks.

Along with affinity and hierarchy, this moral dimension has generally served humanity well. We sense elevation, among other times, when we see or learn of someone doing something selfless or noble. The experiences of elevation that may move us to the edge of tears and inspire us as well to do likewise, to act also in a spirit of charity and selflessness – emotions even more important for cohesion in the small hunting bands of our ancestors than in our own time.

For our proto-human ancestors disgust conferred an evolutionary advantage as well, in helping them decide what to eat and what water to drink, something particularly important as meat became more significant in diet. We are descendants of creatures who were emotionally guided to make sound choices. Their legacy is in our scriptures; and, for better as well as worse, the emotion remains intact.

We may as a species owe our survival to these emotions, but they now may cause us unnecessary expense and may even threaten resources critical for our future. Because of the likelihood of additional expense to re-treat subsequently withdrawn water, a current Virginia regulatory initiative to promote wider use of injection wells is a second best alternative.

Only our emotional imagination justifies the additional expense of injection wells and subsequent recovery as an alternative to reduced groundwater withdrawals in the first place. The water treated for injection into aquifers may be more pure than water drawn from a reservoir.  Further, all the Earth’s water has been here nearly since its beginning. Over millions of years, the Earth’s waters have passed as waste or through decay through all extinct and living forms of life.

In an age of good public health, pumping drinkable water into wells serves, at best, as needless emotional reassurance. At worst, the effort only defers the day when withdrawals of water from our aquifers will no longer be feasible, and when wastewater must be directly recycled for drinking. If not now, when?


Our Threatened Water Supply, 2010 Conference Report and Presentations

National Research Council, Water Reuse: Potential for Expanding the Nation's Water Supply Through Reuse of
Municipal Wastewater
(Prepublication 2011)



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Thursday, December 8, 2011  by tday

In the near future, Virginia will be publishing for public comment amendments to its regulations governing diversions of water from wastewater treatment facilities for reclamation and reuse.  Reclamations of wastewater for “gray water” reuses that would be affected by the amended regulations include irrigation, dust control, and other uses where non-potable water is sufficient.

“Consumptive” reuses of reclaimed water are means to reduce point source discharges of untreated wastewater, means to meet water demands of Virginia’s growing population that do not require potable water, and means as well to reduce nutrient discharges into the Chesapeake Bay Watershed that can improve the Bay’s health.  Water reclamation and reuse should over time stabilize stream flows in Virginia’s rivers as well. A short term effect, however, of greater reclamation and reuse is that stream flows under low flow conditions may be impaired downstream if too much water is diverted from a discharge point for consumptive reuse.

Under current regulations, Virginia’s environmental regulators receive no notice of certain water reclamation and reuse projects until after a separate Virginia agency, the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, has issued a permit.  The objective of the proposed amendments is to improve regulation of consumptive water reclamation and reuse to preserve environmentally sensitive instream flows downstream and to assure sufficient water flows for public water supplies in a manner that generally encourages water reclamation and reuse.

The proposed amendments modify existing regulations to prohibit reductions of discharges from permitted water treatment facilities that would have significant adverse impact on other beneficial uses of the receiving state waters.  Beneficial uses under the amended regulations would include both instream and offstream uses.  Instream uses encompass habitat maintenance, waste assimilation, recreation, navigation, and cultural and aesthetic values.  Offstream beneficial uses include agriculture, electric power generation, and other commercial and industrial uses.

Before a permit for a consumptive reclamation and reuse project would issue under the amended regulations, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality would receive notice of the proposed consumptive reclamation and reuse project and would complete a cumulative impact analysis.  The proposed regulations specify the types of information that must be furnished to enable a determination of the project’s cumulative impact.

Issuance of the regulations for public comment is now awaiting action by the Governor.  Additional detail and background may be found on the Virginia Town Hall website: http://townhall.virginia.gov/L/GetFile.cfm?File=E:%5Ctownhall%5Cdocroot%5C103%5C3380%5C5972%5CAgencyStatement_DEQ_5972_v1.pdf

See also, Virginia Department of Health & Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, Expanding Water Reclamation and Reuse in Virginia (Nov. 2011), on the Web at http://www.deq.state.va.us/export/sites/default/vpa/pdf/Final_Report_on_Expanding_Water_R-R_in_VA_11-2011.pdf  (a report prepared for the Virginia General Assembly).

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Friday, September 16, 2011  by tday

While Virginia is still drying out from the Hurricane Lee deluge, it is hard to contemplate that Virginia, with its lush vegetation and broad rivers has a threatened water supply, or that Hampton Roads, an area of the state where population is growing particularly rapidly, is as well the area where Virginia’s water supply is most threatened.  Yet that is one of the most disturbing conclusions from the Committee’s 2011 Conference, Sustaining Virginia's Water Supply: Challenges and StrategiesResearch published by the U.S. Geological Survey in 2008 has documented that groundwater in the Hampton Roads and Southside region is nearly depleted, with a deep depression in the vicinity of the former paper mill in Franklin. In addition, the water is becoming increasingly saline because the direction of flow into the main aquifer in the region has reversed. 

Worse, although the seriousness of this threat has been well-documented since 2008, the state funding necessary to incorporate the USGS findings as a planning resource has not been appropriated by the General Assembly.  In the absence, further draws on groundwater in the region are regulated to any degree at all only under a regime that does not reflect the imminence of the threat.  As a result, the State’s regulatory evaluation of current proposals for two new paper mills in the vicinity of the former Franklin paper mill that would likewise draw on the same aquifers, at a rate of 50 million gallons a day cannot incorporate into decision-making this highly relevant data on the threat to regional groundwater supply.

If approved, the 50 million gallon per day groundwater withdrawal proposed by the two paper mills would be more than triple the maximum groundwater withdrawal approved for the City of Norfolk.  It would exceed as well total permitted groundwater withdrawals for James City County and would be more than double the permitted withdrawals for all of Hampton Roads.

The surface water supply in the region is also threatened.  Lake Gaston, a North Carolina reservoir, that supplies Virginia Beach and several other Tidewater communities with their drinking water, is in the same watershed as Coles Hill near Chatham in Pittsylvania County where uranium mining and processing would start up if a legislative embargo on uranium mining in Virginia should be lifted during the 2012 session of the General Assembly. Uranium mining in the United States has to date occurred in arid regions of the country, not in any area where hurricanes, stormwater overflows and flooding are common.  How the radioactive mine tailings from uranium mining in such a challenging environment could be contained and not contaminate the water supply would be an unprecedented challenge for the industry.  The City of Virginia Beach is studying the potential impact on its water supply. The National Research Council is also conducting a study of this issue, but has indicated that it will not state a conclusion as to whether mining and milling can be done safely. 


U.S. Geological Survey, Scientific Investigations Report 2007-5247, on the Web at http://pubs.usgs.gov/sir/2007/5247/pdf/sir2007-5247.pdf

National Academy of Sciences, Project DENS-BESR-09-06, Uranium Mining in Virginia, on the Web at http://www8.nationalacademies.org/cp/projectview.aspx?key=49253 (project description, including a description of project scope, meetings and committee membership).

City of Virginia Beach Study and Related Materials on the Web at http://www.vbgov.com/government/departments/public-utilities/pages/uranium-mining.aspx

For further information about the Diocesan Stewardship of Creation Committee, please visit http://www.caringforgodscreation.net .

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