Virginia State Water Resources Plan Final Version Released by Va. DEQ on October 1, 2015; To be Updated Every Five Years

On October 1, 2015, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality published the final version of Virginia’s “State Water Resources Plan.” A draft of the plan had been published in April 2015 for a public-comment period. The plan is Virginia’s first effort to develop a statewide water-supply plan based on local and regional plans.  The plan is available online at http://www.deq.virginia.gov/Programs/Water/WaterSupplyWaterQuantity/WaterSupplyPlanning/StateWaterResourcesPlan.aspx.

According to the plan’s Executive Summary, the plan “is a compilation and synthesis of the 48 local and regional water supply plans developed by local governments to assess their water supply needs 2010 to 2040, as well as information from other sources.  ….  The State Plan takes a comprehensive look at the water sources currently being used in the Commonwealth and assesses the capacity of these sources relative to defined beneficial uses.  An assessment of the ability of current sources to meet the projected water demand to 2040 is detailed.  This State Plan provides an opportunity to identify the likely challenges that will be faced by the many beneficial uses that depend on flow in Virginia’s water resources.  The information provided enables the identification of the probable location and types of impacts to beneficial uses and the various regulatory, infrastructure, and ecological challenges that these impacts might present.  In addition to these areas of likely impact, the information in this plan can be used to target areas whose demands may jeopardize the sustainability of the water resource.  These areas will require better understanding of aquatic resources, a more intense scrutiny to the accuracy of data, and a more thorough knowledge of water supply operations in those areas.”

The statewide plan resulted from a process set in motion by SB 1221 in the 2003 Virginia General Assembly.  That bill–which is available at the Virginia Legislative Information System’s Web site, at http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?ses=031&typ=bil&val=sb1221)–required the following: “The [State Water Control] Board, with the advice and guidance from the Commissioner of Health, local governments, public service authorities, and other interested parties, shall establish a comprehensive water supply planning process for the development of local, regional, and state water supply plans consistent with the provisions of this chapter [Chapter 227 of the Virginia Code].  This process shall be designed to (i) ensure that adequate and safe drinking water is available to all citizens of the Commonwealth, (ii) encourage, promote, and protect all other beneficial uses of the Commonwealth’s water resources, and (iii) encourage, promote, and develop incentives for alternative water sources, including but not limited to desalinization.”

Following are some of the assessments of Virginia’s water supplies in the plan, according to the plan’s Executive Summary:
*By 2040, Virginia is expected to see about a 32-percent increase—about 450 million gallons—in mean daily water demand from 2010 levels.

*Of this projected demand, about 77% is anticipated to come from surface water sources. The remaining estimated 23% demand is expected to come from groundwater sources. Also, the plan on p. 45 states that this projected increase in groundwater demand “provides for special concern when dealing with groundwater withdrawals occurring in the Coastal Plain of Virginia and the associated GWMA [Groundwater Management Area], since groundwater resources are already oversubscribed, not sustainable for the long term at current use, and are contributing to increased land subsidence and saltwater intrusion potential.”

*According to the 2014 Report on Virginia’s Water Resources Management Activities, 82% of the total surface water withdrawn in 2013 was excluded from permitting…..

*Water-supply systems around the state need about $6.1 billion in improvements during the next 20 years, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers “2015 Report Card for Virginia’s Infrastructure” (online at http://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/virginia/virginia-overview/).

The plan (in the Executive Summary, and on pp. 100-108) identifies 12 areas of “challenges” with accompanying recommendations:

  1. Understanding the Impact of Unpermitted Water Withdrawals;
  2. Gaps in Water Withdrawal Reporting, Differences in Reporting Thresholds Between WSP (water-supply plans) and VWWR (Virginia Water Withdrawal) Regulations, and Lack of Adequate Data;
  3. Quantifying Current and Future Risks to Groundwater Availability Outside of Current Groundwater Management Areas;
  4. Reservoir Site Development;
  5. Threats to Water Quality;
  6. Understanding the Impact of Consumptive Use on Water Supply;
  7. Promoting Conservation to Reduce Long-term and Short-term Demand;
  8. Critical Infrastructure Deficiencies;
  9. Sea Level Rise, Changes in Precipitation Patterns, and Land Subsidence;
  10. Source Water Protection;
  11. Conflict Resolution;
  12. Public Education and Outreach.

The Plan’s Executive Summary concludes, “DEQ anticipates updating the State Plan at five-year intervals, with each update reflecting the most recent local and regional water supply plans, water withdrawal data, and demand projections. The State Plan is intended to be a dynamic, iterative document that will be updated as new data becomes available.”

Appendix D of the draft plan provides 133 one-page “snapshots” of water sources, demand, and other information for various localities or groups or localities.

For a previous Virginia Water Resources Research Center summary of Virginia’s water-supply planning process since 2002, please see “Water Supply Planning on the Agenda in Virginia and Several Other States,” Virginia Water Central, November 2009, p.7, online at http://vtechworks.lib.vt.edu/handle/10919/49360.

For a Virginia Water Radio podcast (3 min./44 sec.) on the statewide planning process, please see “Virginia’s State Water Resources Plan,” Virginia Water Radio Episode 261, April 13, 2015, online at http://www.virginiawaterradio.org/2015/04/episode-261-4-13-15-virginias-state.html.

For information on water-planning efforts in other states, please see the following Web sites (as of June 20, 2016):
Federal Support Tool Box managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, “State Water Plans,” online at http://watertoolbox.us/apex/f?p=689:46:0::NO:::.

Streaming Water Web site, “State Water Plans,” online at http://streamingwater.org/state-water-plans/.  This Web site is produced by Patricia Breshnahan, the associate director of the Connecticut Institute of Water Resources, located at the University of Connecticut.

Sandy River Reservoir

Surface-water reservoirs, such as the Sandy River Reservoir in Prince Edward County (shown here in November 2013), are one aspect of local and regional plans that have been incorporated into the Virginia Water Resources Plan.

Dry Creek

Drought-declaration protocols were established in local and regional plans that were incorporated into the 2015 Virginia Water Resources Plan. Shown above is a literally dry Dry River at Lilly in Rockingham County, Va., on November 25, 2007.  At the time, over 96 percent of Virginia was categorized as “abnormally dry” or worse by the U.S. Drought Monitor.

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