Saturday, May 28, 2022

DEQ approves JCC permit for water withdrawal on Chickahominy River

JCC is considering the Chickahominy River as a potential water supply source for the county. (CDM Smith/JCC)
JCC is considering the Chickahominy River as a potential water supply source for the county. (CDM Smith/JCC)

James City County has cleared another hurdle in its quest to secure a sustainable water source, adding another option to a list of several possibilities.

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality granted a permit on Aug. 25 allowing James City County to withdraw as much as 16.95 million gallons per day from the Chickahominy River near the Chickahominy Riverfront Park.

The permit authorizes the James City Service Authority to withdraw the water to meet its public drinking water demands, and will give the county more flexibility as it continues to address its water needs, County Administrator Bryan Hill said Friday.

For three years, James City County has worked to find alternatives to groundwater after the DEQ requested a groundwater permit that would reduce the county’s groundwater withdrawal — the volume of water the county can pump from the Potomac Aquifer — by 60 percent, Hill said.

“We were tasked with finding an alternative water source,” Hill said.

The new permit would almost triple the amount of water James City County can access, including up to 8.4 million gallons per day of groundwater and nearly 17 million gallons per day of surface water.

In February, the DEQ awarded a permit to James City County, allowing them to withdraw up to 8.4 million gallons of groundwater per day from aquifers. So far in 2017, the county has averaged about 5.5 per day, Hill said.

The Aug. 25 permit opens the door for the county to build a Chickahominy desalination plant, although plans for the plant are not set in stone, Hill said. The plant would be built at the Chickahominy Riverfront Park, close to an existing water treatment plant.

Before a desalination plant could be built, the project would have to clear two more hurdles. The project would need approval from the Virginia Marine Resources Commission and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, according to Hill.

The permit cannot be renewed and expires in August 2032.

The plant could treat 8 million gallons per day from the Chickahominy, James City Service Authority General Manager Doug Powell said in July 2016.

The desalinization plant, including infrastructure costs, is estimated to result in $121 million in new debt, but the county would be able to control water rates and system growth, Powell said.

A water injection plant would cost roughly half the money of a desalination plant on the Chickahominy River, Hill said.

“I’ll be honest with you, it’s the same value to James City County at half the price,” Hill said. “I want to go smarter and I want to go with the most cost-efficient option.”

Hill has aimed to provide supervisors with at least three options for sustainable water sources by 2030 in James City County: negotiating with Newport News Water Works, surface water withdrawal from the Chickahominy River, and a process of aquifer replenishment called the Sustainable Water Initiative for Tomorrow, or SWIFT.

SWIFT is a proposal being considered by the Hampton Roads Sanitation District which would pump treated-water back into the Potomac Aquifer.

“If we get SWIFT going, we’ll have yet another water source coupled with the Newport News water systems,” Hill said. “We’re good until 2032.”

Although the current 15-year groundwater permit allows James City County to withdraw up to 8.4 million gallons per day, Hill said he still plans to secure other options for sources of water.

“In 15 years you’ll get a groundwater treatment facility plant, or in 15 years you’ll get a surface-water treatment facility plant,” Hill said. “You’ll get one or the other no matter what in the next 15 years.”

WYDaily archives were used in this story.

Andrew Harris contributed reporting to this story.

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