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Senate Bill 1599 – Incentives to use the Columbia Aquifer

There is some exciting news out of the General Assembly for Eastern Shore groundwater protection. The State Water Control Board has been directed to adopt incentives to use groundwater from the Columbia Aquifer.

Since the mid 1990s, the Eastern Shore of Virginia Ground Water Committee has encouraged irrigation use from the surficial aquifer (Columbia) over use of the confined aquifer (Yorktown-Eastover).  They have done so by requesting farmers to use irrigation ponds since these ponds partially recharge from Columbia and the pond withdrawals do not require Ground Water Withdrawal Permits from the Department of Environmental Quality. It was a practical way to use Columbia water and reduce Yorktown-Eastover ground water withdrawals. The Committee has also worked with willing corporations and individuals to drill Columbia wells. One notable example was the Peaker Plant in Northern Accomack choosing to use Columbia wells. Another is the recent effort Tyson has made to look at using Columbia for cooling water for chicken growing houses. These corporations had to be willing partners because the existing regulations do not recognize the difference in the Columbia from the Yorktown-Eastover. Columbia recharges at a faster rate than the confined Yorktown-Eastover aquifer but the amount of water withdrawn is more naturally variable. This variability actually incentives use of the Yorktown-Eastover because individuals or corporations want to be sure when they spend their money to drill a water well they will get water in the amount they need.  A working group of the committee recently had a discussion with the well drillers and they continued to indicate this continues to be a major obstacle to using Columbia.
The Committee members and staff worked to highlight the Eastern Shore’s need to conserve Yorktown-Eastover groundwater by encouraging use of Columbia groundwater. Senator Lewis’ Bill 1599 directs the State Water Control Board to look at this issue and incentive use of the Columbia on the Eastern Shore. This is a step toward protecting and preserving our groundwater by increasing the choices individuals and corporations will have to obtain the ground water they need.
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