Meeting on Regional Water Study

Wednesday, September 10 at the Rockfish Valley Community Center

 

More than 40 people attended the presentation by Mike Lawless, engineer with Draper Aden Associates.

 

Background

Due to the increasing number and severity of droughts in recent years, the VA State legislature has mandated all jurisdictions to complete comprehensive water studies.  Such studies are generally too expensive for small counties to undertake on their own, so Nelson County opted to be part of the study performed by Draper Aden on behalf of Region 2000.  The study includes 12 local governments and 4 service authorities, and is designed to provide baseline data for future decisions and planning.

 

Purpose 

· Ensure that adequate and safe drinking water is available to all citizens within the region;

· Encourage, promote, and protect all other beneficial uses of the region’s water resources;

· Encourage, promote, and develop incentives for alternative water sources; and

· Promote conservation

 

Water demand projections for the region will be made for the next 50 years.  Every 5 years there will be a review of the plan, and, every 10 years, data on water demand and availability will be updated based on changes in population and water supply.  The plan can be used by participating jurisdictions as a guide for Comprehensive Plans as they look at appropriate future water usage and land use policies (zoning, subdivisions, etc.).  Water users in Nelson include residential, agricultural, commercial and industrial, recreational/environmental (fishing, wetlands, wildlife, and required river flow to the Chesapeake Bay) users.

 

Relevance for Nelson

A critical predictor of future water demands is population growth.  The fastest growing part of Nelson is the northern half of the 151 corridor, and that is not an area with surplus water supply.  The regional water study indicates that – at least as an aggregate – the demand for water will not exceed supply in Nelson until the year 2058.  However, the regional study is not designed to take into account smaller units within counties, and if the population in the Rockfish River watershed area continues to grow at the current rate, the demand for water will exceed the supply before 2058.  A second phase study will be required to look at specific water needs in this watershed.

 

There are 3,000 private wells in Nelson, and obtaining information on these wells is a huge problem.  As is the case in most communities in Virginia, data on wells is not maintained in any central location.  An effort should be undertaken to get well drillers to provide their well data and their local drilling knowledge to the water study.  Volunteers are also needed to extract data from well logs submitted to the Health Department in Nelson.  At the state level, DEQ does not currently require permits to drill new wells, but it is considering requiring permits for large wells (300,000 gal/mo. – mainly agricultural, commercial and industrial users) as it does currently east of  I-95.

Sustainability of ground water resources is uncertain.  Monitoring of wells in various areas of the County is needed in order to determine what is happening to underground aquifers.  It is very expensive to drill new wells solely for the purpose of monitoring, but DEQ is interested in finding abandoned private wells that might be used.  It was noted that when currently producing wells are used, collection of data is more difficult because the consumption of water must be factored into the monitoring study.

 

In many communities that are served by public water systems, a significant percentage of water is classified as “unaccounted-for-water,” or UAW.   UAW is the difference between the amount of water that leaves a public water supply and the water that is metered for use.  Some UAW has beneficial uses such as fire hydrants, but most UAW is from leakages, unauthorized use (e.g. theft, deliberate bypass of meters, illegal tapping, etc.), inaccurate meters or meter reading, and inadequate system controls (such as malfunctioning valves).  Reducing UAW is one way the Nelson County Service Authority could slow the growth in water use.

 

Conclusion

Before the final water plan is submitted to DEQ in early 2009, there will be a public hearing with input from citizens at a BOS meeting in Nelson.  Water is a resource that is being fought over in western states, and it will become an increasingly sensitive issue in eastern states as population continues to grow and development puts increased demand on limited water supplies.

 

At some point, Nelson County will have to decide on alternative sources to well production (e.g. new reservoir impoundment areas or rooftop rainwater collection systems).  Conservation of water under normal conditions and restriction of water use during droughts will be very important.  Existing conservation ordinances within the region will be reviewed by the water plan.

 

As a whole, the area served by the Region 2000 water study is considered to be a “water rich” area of Virginia.  However, parts of Nelson County and other jurisdictions under the regional water study are not “water rich.”  For instance, it is predicted that water use will exceed existing water supply in neighboring Amherst County by 2018.  A 15 to 20 year lead time is required to permit and construct a large dam to impound water, so it is important for Nelson County to be proactive in assessing our water requirements.  Concern was expressed that we not end up being a water source for other areas that have outgrown their water supplies before knowing our own needs. 

 

 

 PS:  any one interested to help gather well data from the Health Dept in Lovingston please contact  Peter Agelasto, Rockfish Valley Foundation 434 361 2251 or info@rockfishvalley.org.

The goal is to organize that data, begin data gathering from monitored wells in the Rockfish Valley and to facilitate conversation between well drillers and the VA Dept of Enviro Quality.