- Report Published -
|Report of the State Water Commission|
|State Water Commission|
|The State Water Commission is a permanent agency of the Commonwealth directed by statute to (i) study all qualitative and quantitative water supply and allocation problems in the Commonwealth, (ii) coordinate the legislative recommendations of other state entities responsible for water supply and allocation issues, and (iii) report annually its findings and recommendations to the Governor and the General Assembly (Va Code § 30-186 et seq.). Beginning in 1998, in response to concerns raised by several local governments and the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission (HRPDC), the State Water Commission undertook a review of the state's water supply and water resources planning policies. In its review, the Commission received testimony from (a) the HRPDC on ground water supplies in Eastern Virginia, (b) several localities on water supply development and the need from regional planning, and (c) state agency experts regarding the importance of water supply planning.|
The drought of 1999, which resulted in water supply shortages throughout the Commonwealth, focused attention on the state's role in providing needed water supplies. There are 49,350 miles of streams and rivers in Virginia, divided into nine major basins. In 1998, 1,452 million gallons per day of water were withdrawn (excluding power generation) from Virginia waters. Of the total amount of water withdrawn, 87 percent was withdrawn from surface water sources and 11 percent was withdrawn from ground water sources. More than one-half (53 percent) of the withdrawals were for public water supply, followed by manufacturing (40 percent), mining (three percent), irrigation (two percent), and agriculture and commercial (one percent each). Seventy-five percent of Virginian's are served by central public water supplies and 25 percent are self-supplied.
In response to the Commission's request to identify critical water supply issues, Mr. Dennis Treacy, Director of the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), identified three ground water management concerns: (i) increasing demand for ground water, (ii) the continued decline of ground water levels, and (iii) a lack of understanding of the ground water flow system due to inadequate flow models. Virginia's ground water flow models were developed in the early 1980s. Revisions will have to be made to the models if the State is to be assured that appropriate tools are available to make decisions in the future.
The HRPDC strongly supported the effort to update the ground water models. Since 1986, the region's local governments have participated in a comprehensive regional ground water management program, expending in excess of $1 million, plus staff time in direct support of the program. The regional group has concluded that the existing computer model of the Coastal Plain is not adequate for proper management of the ground water resources in the region. The HRPDC recommended that state funds be allocated to assist in financing a five-year cooperative effort among the U.S. Geological Survey, DEQ and local communities to improve the ground water flow model for Eastern Virginia.
Several local government officials from the Middle Peninsula and the Rapidan Service Authority voiced their concerns regarding the lack of planning for and development of drinking water supplies. They suggested that (i) water supply, especially in rural areas, should be a multi-jurisdictional regional issue, and (ii) regional water inventories and regional plans for new supply sources be developed.
Dr. William Cox of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at VPI-SU, cautioned that water demand would increase despite efforts to mitigate usage through water conservation efforts. He suggested that rather than the state's current "somewhat passive" approach to water supply planning, the single most important factor affecting attainment of a desirable water supply future for Virginia is enhanced state water supply planning.
The Commission found that the effort by the state not only to identify reliable sources of water but to plan for the proper and best use of this resource has been limited, or as one expert characterized it as "episodic." It concluded that a greater commitment of resources will be required if the State is to address such priorities as (i) refining models of the ground water resources in Eastern Virginia, (ii) providing drinking water to isolated communities in Southwest Virginia, (iii) assisting local governments in the development of water systems, and (iv) resolving conflicts between water users. The Commission made two recommendations: (a) that the General Assembly support a budget amendment of $754,190 to establish seven positions to perform water supply planning, and (b) that the General Assembly appropriate $100,000 to be allocated to the Virginia Water Resources Research Center for development and dissemination of technology to provide safe drinking water to isolated communities.