WATER SHORTAGES COMING -- A VIRGINIA COUNTY'S PROBLEM
I have long contended that the United States will have conflicts over water in time. That time may be getting closer than some want to think. Areas of the country that have insufficient surface water to impound have long relied upon ground water aquifers, some of which aren't fully replenishing under the stress of increasing demand. Investors have bought millions of acres of water rights betting on the impending under-supply to increase in value -- and they are undoubtedly right. Canada has water, some northern states here have water but many southwestern regions have grossly inadequate water. Mexico lacks water and looks north as we impound water that would find its way there. The problems of inadequate water need to be addressed analytically, objectively and intelligently, Strategies must be developed to mitigate the problems.
My area of James City County, Virginia, is totally dependent on ground water, the largest municipality in Virginia to be so. The issue has never been dealt with strategically. Time is now to do so. As I try to understand their plans, I see no strategy, only a way to extend what is being done now.
In this blog I have written about "FOREVER MISTAKES," ones that have long term negative consequences. This is one. I dare say that other areas of the USA experience similar situations.
Here is JCCs case from my experiences.
JAMES CITY COUNTY WATER SUPPLY – "FOREVER MISTAKES"
So, James City County is finally concerned about water supply. The Gazette's headline Feb 4, “County's Options For Water Drying Up,” could have been written long ago. “James City's water woes” addressed in Rusty Carter's editorial, were predictable for decades. Not having dealt with them indicts all county governing boards for ignoring increasing demand for water and for thoughtless reliance on ground water from aquifers that aren't replenishing. Moreover, Potomac aquifer, is “old water,” never to be replenished. County government long knew of the impending supply problem. They were admonished that we'd eventually have a water shortage and possibly even total loss of an aquifer. I personally admonished the BOS, throughout the 1970's and again from early 1990's that water supply was a critical issue. All BOS's are guilty of malfeasance. There has been no strategic sense or vision and no interest in the hard reality of the water shortage they were warned of. When I first came to the area, I was surprised that both the county and my employer used ground water.
In the 1970's, as Director of R&D for fiber producer BASF, I had to know about the processes and materials used to produce fiber. Water, several million gallons per day, was the major processing material. Interrupted supply of water, even for short periods, would be catastrophic and shut down the plants with resultant costs of millions of dollars. I was concerned that water was “old water” from the Potomac aquifer with high levels of metallic salts. To be useable, it had to be purified. I monitored the county's water situation periodically. Concerns increased year-by-year as we learned that the top aquifers, Chickahominy and Piney Point, the county's sole sources then, were not fully replenishing. “Hitting the wall” was inevitable.
Until I left BASF Fibers in 1982, I expressed my concerns to county officials to no avail. Since the county had given up Little Creek and Diascund to Newport News, the only solution to me was to go inland to the upper reaches of the James or York rivers. Or, go further west where water and suitable land were available, and where some needed flood control. Suitable land means hollows and valleys where many acre-feet of water can be impounded per acre of land, unlike flat land where an acre of land is needed per acre-foot of water. There was no interest, no creative thinking. Too far to pump water! Couldn't conceive of using rail and roadway rights of way. I recommended that BASF contract for water with Newport News, as Busch had wisely done. I departed.
When I returned to purchase BASF in 1989, BASF and the county were still drawing ground water. The county's imbalance in water needs vs. supply had increased. In making the purchase, water was a major issue. Mann Industries bought the plants anyway but BASF maintained headquarters there. In the purchase contract we agreed to sell water to BASF for cooling. At times my operations people reported concerns about both supply and quality of water. I worried about drawing so much water from a non-replenishing aquifer. I advised BASF that we would stop selling them water. They cooperated and installed another cooling system. We began plans for purchasing water.
Back to the county. In early 1990's Supervisor Ron Nervitt asked about desalinating river water. I advised that technology was not effective in desalinating brackish water of varying salinity. When asked, I advised of my use of Potomac aquifer water and my concerns about supply from 500-ft wells. I advised that salinity was constant and could be desalinated. From those discussions, the 5-forks desalination plant was conceived. From 800-ft wells we have water, but the future is still uncertain with no viable plan for adequate supply. Four to five decades of mismanagement and it continues.
It is absolutely unconscionable, that we have hired a lobbyist to “work” the VA DEQ to permit the county to draw more water to hasten “hitting the wall.”