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Protecting the water supply increases for local commission

Posted on Tuesday, March 12, 2013 at 10:46 pm

The importance of protecting the water supply became a bit clearer in last week’s planning commission meeting. This came after representatives of Virginia Department of Health’s office of drinking water made a special presentation to the commission members last week.

Special Project Engineer Barry Matthews and Brent Waters discussed the issue of wellhead protection as part of the commission’s ongoing discussion on whether or not the town needs a WellHead Overlay District (WDC) in order to help protect the town’s water supply.

Matthews described what WellHead, or Source Water Protection (SWP), consisted of to the commission. SWP includes multiple partners working together, it is the first barrier in Virginia’s approach to protection, clean rivers, streams, lakes and aquifers, it is cheaper than treatment after the fact, and helps build healthy communities.

One of the first barriers that helps protect safe drinking water is communities having a “strategy in-place.” This is a document prepared by a community which addresses all elements of a SWP plan. Elements of this are an advisory group, that meets regularly; defined potential contaminant sources, actions recommended, and a contingency plan should something go awry.

Waters also discussed how Colonial Beach is within the Coastal Plain area of Virginia. This area basically follows all the land east of I-95 in the state. Approximately 2.6 million people live in this area. There are 1,500 public groundwater systems with six major aquifers. 50% of the state water usage comes from this region. The major watersheds are James, Roanoke and Potomac Rivers and there are 30 public surface water systems.

The aquifers in the coastal plain of Virginia have what is called “old water.” Typically the water is tens of thousands of years old due to the way the aquifers run. There is very little of what is considered young water drawn from any of these sources.

One of the main entry ways for contaminants to these aquifers are wells that are no longer in use, but not officially “abandoned.” These wells leave open source ways for contaminants, and oftentimes are left open. If a well is properly abandoned, it will be filled in, capped, and will not be a potential source of contamination.

Areas that adopt SWP plans can apply for grants through the VDH that can help properly abandon wells and stop that source of contamination.

Commissioner Dave Coombes had multiple questions for Waters and Matthews on the need for the overlay district, including what area would be encompassed. Typically the WHP includes a 1,000 feet area around each wellhead. The town of Colonial Beach has five wellheads within town limits. Another  one of Coombes’ questions was the need for the overlay district when the areas around the wells are already R1 and R2 rated. It was answered that this would help the future of the town by protecting the town from future development and changes be later councils.

At the end of the meeting, Commission chair Maureen Holt brought up the problem with the Robin Grove Well, in which there is much erosion around it, and that one good storm could destroy the area. She emphasized the need for the town to prepare for this emergency. She ended the meeting declaring that the commission needed to look at the plan the town has and go from there.

The next meeting of the Planning Commission is April 4th at the Town Center.