Board supports resolution to protect Aquifer
by Larry Chowning
The Middlesex County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on September 3 to support a resolution made by Saluda District supervisor Pete Mansfield to protect the Potomac (freshwater) Aquifer, by encouraging the West Point and Franklin paper mills to switch from using aquifer water to reusing treated water.
“The West Point paper mill alone draws more water than all other users in the Middle Peninsula and Northern Neck combined,” said Mansfield. “And, when combined with the Franklin paper mill, they together create a cone of water depression that extends from the North Carolina border to Maryland.”
Mansfield said his resolution is in no way designed to harm the local pulp mill, which employs many Middlesex residents. “However, we are at a point that something has to be done soon,” he said.
In a written statement, Mansfield said this action would stabilize the level of the aquifer and substantially reduce the depression cone that is currently being created as water is drawn from the aquifer.
He noted the Potomac Aquifer is by far the largest source (90%) of freshwater in the Virginia Coastal Plain “and it’s being destroyed by withdraws that exceed natural replenishment by an estimated 25 percent. DEQ (Department of Environmental Quality) believes complete failure of the aquifer at the present rates of withdraws may occur within 20 to 50 years.”
Mansfield said the eastern end of Middlesex County is already experiencing problems. “As the aquifer levels drop, it allows a back fill (intrusion) of pollutants from the Chesapeake Bay, mainly salt, primarily spreading westward from the bay’s impact crater. The eastern part of Middlesex, which includes Deltaville, one of the most populated areas in the county, is on the edge of the crater impact zone.”
About 35 million years ago an asteroid, called a bolide, hit the area that is now the lower tip of the Delmarva Peninsula near Cape Charles. The bolide created what geologists call The Chesapeake Bay Impact Crater, which is 56 miles wide and as deep as the Grand Canyon. The outer edge of the crater includes the Deltaville area of Middlesex County. It is believed the salty taste of ground water in the Deltaville area is directly associated with the crater that damaged the lining of the aquifers allowing saltwater intrusion.
Mansfield’s resolution is requesting that the state allocate $110 million to assist the pulp mill in finding treated reusable water rather than using water from the Potomac Aquifer.
He also introduced the second phase of his plan that would add the Franklin paper mill. “It is estimated that by supplying both mills [with reuse water] the total withdraw could be reduced by about 40 percent,” said Mansfield.
“If the project is delayed one year, it will cost $50 million in lost potable water; 800,000 more pounds of nutrients will enter Chesapeake Bay; a further loss of aquifer storage capacity through land subsidence; a loss of wells due to saltwater intrusion; personal health problems due to high salt levels in existing wells; and a loss of future growth and economic opportunities for the region,” he said.