Board urged to protect groundwater against strict DEQ regulations
by Larry S. Chowning
The Virginia Department of Environmenal Quality (DEQ) has been holding public hearings on whether to expand areas to include Middlesex County in the groundwater withdrawal permitting program.
Virginia manages groundwater through a program regulating withdrawals in certain areas called Ground Water Management Areas. For example, the Eastern Virginia Ground Water Management Area currently is comprised of an area east of Interstate 95 and south of the Mattaponi and York rivers.
The requirements for community wells in a Ground Water Management Area are much more stringent on those localities not in a management area. The possibility of Middlesex County being put in a management area has raised concerns about future development in the county.
Lewis Lawrence of the Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission has requested that the “General Assembly provide adequate staffing levels and adequate funding so that DEQ staff can issue timely water withdrawal permits.
“Without assurance of certainty, consistency and timeliness for permit issuance, future Middle Peninsula economic development projects that require significant groundwater withdrawal (over 300,000 gallons per month) may experience permit issuance delays upwards of exceeding two years of time,” said Lawrence.
“DEQ must be provided the resources necessary to study the existing groundwater within the Middle Peninsula, develop an approach that protects a limited resource without stifling future economic development initiatives at a time when job creation is most critical to the economic fabric of the region,” Lawrence said.
At Tuesday’s Middlesex County board of supervisors meeting, board chairman Wayne Jessie described the proposed expansion of DEQ’s more stringent regulations concerning groundwater as a “double-edged sword.”
Jessie said that if large developments, even under more stringent regulations, are allowed to come into the county and use up the county’s groundwater, it will impact homeowners here who have shallow wells. “They’ll have to drill deeper wells,” he said. “The other side of the sword is that more stringent rules toward community wells might slow down economic development. There needs to be a lot of research and study in regards to this.”
Trudy Feigum of Hartfield complained that public hearing notices on the matter were all in media outside of the area that would be impacted. “There were no ads run in our local paper by DEQ and the meetings were held outside of our area,” she said.
Feigum said the West Point pulp mill uses 20 million gallons of water a day. They use more groundwater than anyone else in the area, yet these new regulations will be directed at homeowners who are perhaps easier to regulate and control, she said.
Tom Feigum of Hartfield said, “I’m not against West Point. It plays a great role in the economy of this area. What I’m against is bullying individual groundwater users rather than dealing with the major users.”
Feigum indicated he and his wife attended the public hearing in Williamsburg on the matter. The proposed changes do not impact lands west of I-95.
Feigum noted that Middlesex County administrator Matt Walker, who also was at the hearing in Williamsburg, asked what would happen if Middlesex wanted to drill a well west of I-95 and pipe water into the county.
“They all went ‘oh no!’ “ said Feigum.
The Feigums urged supervisors to take this matter seriously and voice their opinions whenever possible.