James City's water supply may not be able to keep up with growing demand. Cranston's Mill Pond could be the answer.

Staff writer

Cranston’s Mill Pond would be a potential resource for James City County’s future water needs, but the withdrawal permit isn’t quite in hand yet, a representative of the pond’s owner told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

The pond, which is owned by the Chesapeake Bay Nutrient Land Trust and Restoration Systems, is located on 55 acres of land in the upper part of the county.

The pond could be a potable water source to address the county’s anticipated water demand in the coming decades amid the state’s decision to decrease withdrawal from the Potomac Aquifer.

The aquifer, which is the primary source of groundwater for James City County and other localities across eastern Virginia, has been depleted through overuse faster than it can naturally regenerate.

“Groundwater in the eastern portion of the state is being severely depleted,” said Jeff Corbin, vice president of Restoration Systems. “Cranston’s Mill Pond can be part of the solution.”

The county’s demand for water is expected to reach an average of 8.9 million gallons daily in 2050.

Peak daily demand could be as high as 13.3 million gallons. That would overwhelm the county’s current maximum groundwater withdrawal permit of 8.4 million gallons a day through 2027.

The permit will be slashed to about 3.8 million gallons of water every day. Currently, the county withdraws about 5.4 million gallons of water daily.

More than 8 million gallons of water flow over the pond’s spillway on average every day, and Corbin wants a permit that allows withdrawal of up to 15 million gallons a day, which would still be below the pond’s peak capacity.

The fresh water of the pond would be easier and cheaper to treat for human consumption than a saltwater source. It wouldn’t be enough to be the county’s sole source of water, but it could in tandem with groundwater provide for the county’s needs, Corbin said.

Though county officials have been in discussions about purchasing the pond to use as a water source, Corbin doesn’t have the county, or anyone else, lined up to be the user.

That has become an issue for getting the water withdrawal permit. Without a user in mind, the state can’t nail down some parameters of the permit.

Potential users have adopted a wait-and-see approach to see how the permit shakes out, creating an impasse. The permit would be transferable to the entity that comes to possess the pond.

“We don’t have a permit, but we’re extremely close,” Corbin said.

While supervisors asked minor logistical questions about the water withdrawal, none expressed particular support or opposition to the idea of the county using the pond as a water source.

Corbin said the plan is to sell the pond property to the user.

“We appreciate your time and information,” Supervisor Sue Sadler said at the end of the presentation.

Supervisor Jim Icenhour asked county staff to pull together information regarding the resources that would be needed to provide the necessary infrastructure to move and treat the water, should the county decide to pursue the source.

“I think it would be really important for us to get an idea of the scope,” he said.

If the Department of Environmental Quality issues a permit, the county can more fully evaluate the pond as a water source, James City Service Authority general manager Doug Powell said.

The county is also exploring other options to address water need — a water treatment plant on the Chickahominy River, a water purchasing contract with Newport News as well as Hampton Roads Sanitation District’s Sustainable Water Initiative for Tomorrow program.

The county’s plan is to utilize some combination of these options to address water needs.

The water treatment plant project is expected to cost $128 million and would withdraw almost 17 million gallons of water daily.

The county needs permits from the DEQ, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Virginia Marine Resource Commission to withdraw water. The Corps hasn’t signed off on the permit, though the other two organizations have, Powell said.

Also under consideration is an agreement with Newport News to buy water.

James City County paid $25 million in 2008 for the ability to buy up 4 million gallons of water daily, though the county has yet to buy any water and the infrastructure needed to move the water doesn’t exist.

The agreement is up for renewal in July. If the county doesn’t renew, it can buy up to 2 million gallons of water a day.

HRSD’s SWIFT project aims to treat wastewater and then inject it into the aquifer, where it would be withdrawn.

HRSD wants to build the program’s first full-scale facility at an existing plant in James City County by the end of 2023. That facility would inject about 8 million gallons of water daily into the aquifer and would require an EPA permit to operate.

The project has been bogged down due to resistance from Carter’s Grove. HRSD and Carter’s Grove have been at loggerheads over the former’s desire to acquire 53 acres of the latter’s land inside the Carter’s Grove Agricultural and Forestal District to build the addition to its plant.

Jack Jacobs, 757-298-6007, jojacobs@vagazette.com, @jajacobs_

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