Gov. Ralph Northam signed legislation that creates an advisory board and testing laboratory to monitor a Hampton Roads Sanitation District effort to treat wastewater to a drinkable standard.
HRSD plans to refill the Potomac Aquifer with treated wastewater. The aquifer, which is the primary groundwater source for the Peninsula and stretches across eastern Virginia and beyond, has been depleted through overuse by human consumption faster than it can naturally recharge itself. In some parts of eastern Virginia, the aquifer’s water level has dropped 200 feet or more in the past century.
The Sustainable Water Initiative for Tomorrow project, or SWIFT, would treat wastewater that would otherwise be pumped into rivers and instead inject it into the aquifer, where water users could extract it.
“Dealing with depletion of our aquifer is an enormous responsibility,” said Sen. Monty Mason, D-Williamsburg. “You want to make sure you have every safeguard in place.”
The bill, Senate Bill 1414, had an uneventful journey through the General Assembly. Sponsored by Mason, the bill passed unanimously in the Senate Jan. 30 and in the House Feb. 11. Northam signed the bill Tuesday, and it will take effect as law July 1, on Tuesday, according to the state’s online legislative tracking system.
The legislation establishes the Potomac Aquifer Recharge Oversight Committee. The 10-person advisory board would consist of the state health commissioner, department of environmental quality director, the executive director of the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission, the two co-directors of the laboratory, the director of the Occoquan Watershed Monitoring Laboratory, two state citizens appointed by the governor and two non-voting members.
The group is required to meet at least every quarter during its first three years of existence, and HRSD would fund the committee during that time.
Though HRSD is a member and would fund the committee, Mason has previously stated he doesn’t have concerns about that relationship, calling the legislation a further layer of oversight HRSD willingly submits to.
The legislation creates the Potomac Aquifer Recharge Monitoring Laboratory under the direction of an Old Dominion University faculty member and a Virginia Tech faculty member. The lab will monitor the project’s effect on the aquifer, manage test data and conduct testing and analysis of the water.
The lab will cost about $1 million every year. The committee is expected to have a financial need of less than $25,000 a year, HRSD general manager Ted Henifin has said.
As per the legislation, both the Department of Health commissioner and State Water Control Board are authorized to issue emergency orders to stop treated water injection into the aquifer.
Though he didn’t know a specific timeline, Mason said that over the next few months the parties involved in the project will start to establish the two entities.
HRSD plans to build the program’s first full-scale treatment facility at an existing facility in James City by the end of 2023. The facility would inject about 8 million gallons of water a day into the aquifer. The EPA would have to provide a permit for the facility to operate.
HRSD is making moves to acquire roughly 76 acres of land near that facility in the Carter’s Grove Agricultural and Forestal District to have the space for the treatment equipment, though it expects to only need about 7 acres for the site. The James City Planning Commission voted to recommend the land acquisition Feb. 6. The Board of Supervisors is expected to make its decision March 12.
The land, which is mostly made up of woods and wetlands, doesn’t include Carter’s Grove mansion.
HRSD opened a $25 million project research center last May in Suffolk. The facility can create up to 1 million gallons of drinkable water per day and is testing the concept before full-scale implementation, according to an HRSD news release.
Jack Jacobs, 757-298-6007, firstname.lastname@example.org, @jajacobs_