Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Episode 534 (7-20-20): Groundwater Issues and Innovation in Eastern Virginia

Click to listen to episode (5:05)

Sections below are the following:

Transcript of Audio
Audio Notes and Acknowledgments
Related Water Radio Episodes
For Virginia Teachers (Relevant SOLs, etc.)

Unless otherwise noted, all Web addresses mentioned were functional as of 7-17-20. 


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of July 20, 2020.

MUSIC – ~14 sec – instrumental
This week, that excerpt of “East Virginia,” performed by Timothy Seaman of Williamsburg, opens an episode about eastern Virginia groundwater and an ambitious groundwater-related project by the Hampton Roads Sanitation District, or HRSD.

We start with about 70 seconds of comments by David Paylor, the director of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, or DEQ, during a January 18, 2017, meeting of the Virginia House of Delegate’s committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources.

VOICE - ~68 sec – “...one of the most important issues that we have in the Commonwealth, and that’s making sure that we sustain our coastal groundwater resources…. By and large most of what I’ll say today is about the Potomac Aquifer. It is deep, thousands of feet down…and has a lot of water. It does not recharge in the same way that we think of groundwater recharging in the rest of the state. …So we have three issues with making sure that we don’t overuse our aquifer: we’ve got some declining water levels…; we have saltwater intrusion from pumping that’s reversed the flow of water; and we have subsidence, or land sinking. …The HRSD proposal has the potential to re-inject 100 million gallons per day into the aquifer, and it looks like it can work as it stands right now.  That can deal with land subsidence, that can address saltwater intrusion, and it can also address availability of water. … But, as I said, groundwater moves slowly.  So 25, 30 years before we begin to really see significant benefit, but we’ve got to start now.”

As Director Paylor noted, the Potomac Aquifer is a large, deep formation providing groundwater in Virginia’s Coastal Plain region; and this aquifer faces three major issues resulting from decades of withdrawals for human uses: reduced pressure, saltwater intrusion, and sinking land, also called subsidence.  Natural recharge of the aquifer, which occurs near Virginia’s Fall Zone between the Piedmont and Coastal Plain regions, happens too slowly to replace what humans withdraw.  One response to that in recent years has been reductions in the amount of groundwater withdrawals permitted by Virginia’s DEQ.  Another response is the HRSD’s SWIFT project, short for Sustainable Water Initiative For Tomorrow.  SWIFT’s concept is to take treated wastewater that would otherwise be discharged into area rivers, further treat the water so that it meets drinking water standards and matches chemical characteristics of Potomac Aquifer water, and then inject the water hundreds of feet deep into the aquifer.  By its expected completion in 2032, the project would be adding 100 million gallons per day to the aquifer.  Besides its predicted benefits of recharging the aquifer, SWIFT’s use of wastewater may also significantly reduce nutrient discharges into Chesapeake Bay tributaries.

SWIFT is a big, long-range idea for complicated water issues in Hampton Roads, and its progress is being watched by water professionals and communities well beyond eastern Virginia.

Thanks to Timothy Seaman for permission to use this week’s music, and we close with about 20 more seconds of “East Virginia.”

MUSIC - ~19 sec – instrumental


Virginia Water Radio is produced by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, part of Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.  For more Virginia water sounds, music, or information, visit us online at virginiawaterradio.org, or call the Water Center at (540) 231-5624.  Thanks to Stewart Scales for his banjo version of Cripple Creek to open and close this show.  In Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.


The version heard here of “East Virginia,” from the 2006 album, “Jamestown: On the Edge of a Vast Continent,” is copyright by Timothy Seaman and Pine Wind Music, used with permission.  More information about Timothy Seaman is available online at https://timothyseaman.com/en/.  This music was used previously by Virginia Water Radio in Episode 496, 10-28-19.

The comments by Virginia Department of Environmental Quality Director David Paylor were excerpted from a Virginia Water Radio recording of the January 18, 2017, meeting of the Virginia House of Delegates’ Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee in Richmond.

Click here if you’d like to hear the full version (1 min./11 sec.) of the “Cripple Creek” arrangement/performance by Stewart Scales that opens and closes this episode. More information about Mr. Scales and the group New Standard, with which Mr. Scales plays, is available online at http://newstandardbluegrass.com.


Map of the hydrogeology (water-related geology) of Virginia’s Coastal Plain, showing the location and thickness of the Potomac Aquifer relative to several other aquifers.  Map from Randolph E. McFarland and Bruce T. Scott, “The Virginia Coastal Plain Hydrogeologic Framework,” U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1731, 2006, online at https://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/pp1731.


Used for Audio

James A. Bacon, “Saving the Potomac Aquifer,” Bacon’s Rebellion, 8/30/19, online at https://www.baconsrebellion.com/wp/saving-the-potomac-aquifer/.

Chuck Bailey, “Fall Zone,” College of William and Mary “The Geology of Virginia” blog, 8/8/16, online at http://geology.blogs.wm.edu/2016/08/08/fall-zone/.

Peter Chawaga, Virginia's Aquifer Recharge Project Receives Oversight Overhaul, Water Online, 3/7/19.

Katherine Hafner, HRSD is now injecting millions of gallons of treated wastewater into our aquifer, Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, 4/17/20.

Hampton Roads Sanitation District (HRSD), “James River Treatment Plant SWIFT Improvements,” online at https://www.hrsd.com/james-river-tp-swift-improvements.

HRSD, “SWIFT – Sustainable Water Initiative for Tomorrow,” online at https://www.hrsd.com/swift/. This is HRSD’s main Web site for the SWIFT project. The following sub-pages were consulted for this episode:
“The Potomac Aquifer—A Diminishing Resource,” online at https://www.hrsd.com/swift/potomac-aquifer-diminishing-resource;
“SWIFT FAQ,” online at https://www.hrsd.com/swift/faqs;
“SWIFT in the News,” online at https://www.hrsd.com/swift/news;
“What is SWIFT?” online at https://www.hrsd.com/swift/about.

Dave Ress, Virginia once feared some cities would run out of groundwater. But conservation efforts are working, [Newport News, Va.] Daily Press, 12/5/19.

Amanda Ruggeri, The ambitious plan to stop the ground from sinking, BBC, 12/1/17.

Rex Springston, New panel looks at why underground water is disappearing east of Interstate 95, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 8/18/15.

Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, Historic $100 Million in Funding Approved for Hampton Roads Water Improvement Projects, July 8, 2020, News Release.

Virginia Legislative Information System, 2019 Virginia General Assembly Senate Bill 1414, online at https://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?ses=191&typ=bil&val=sb1414.  This bill established an oversight committee for the SWIFT project.  From the bill summary at this site: “The bill establishes a 10-member advisory board called the Potomac Aquifer Recharge Oversight Committee (the Committee), directing it to ensure that the SWIFT Project is monitored independently.”

Sarah Vogelsong, Hampton Roads wastewater-to-aquifer recharge project showing results, Bay Journal, 5/8/19.

For More Information about Eastern Virginia Water Resources

Randolph E. McFarland and Bruce T. Scott, “The Virginia Coastal Plain Hydrogeologic Framework,” U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1731, 2006, online at https://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/pp1731.

Virginia Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC), “Effectiveness of Virginia’s Water Resource Planning and Management,” October 2016 (114 pages), available online at http://jlarc.virginia.gov/landing-water.asp.

Virginia Places, “Groundwater in Virginia,” online at http://www.virginiaplaces.org/watersheds/groundwater.html.

Virginia Water Resources Research Center, Virginia Water Central News Grouper: “Two Virginia Water Resources Studies Called for by 2015 General Assembly: 1) Eastern Virginia Groundwater Management Advisory Committee Convenes Aug. 18, 2015; 2) JLARC to Study Groundwater and Surface Water Planning and Management,” 8/17/15.


All Water Radio episodes are listed by category at the Index link above (http://www.virginiawaterradio.org/p/index.html).  See particularly the “Groundwater” subject category.


Following are some Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs) that may be supported by this episode’s audio/transcript, sources, or other information included in this post.

2013 Music SOLs

SOLs at various grade levels that call for “examining the relationship of music to the other fine arts and other fields of knowledge.”

2010 Science SOLs

Grades K-6 Earth Patterns, Cycles, and Change Theme
3.9 – Water cycle, including sources of water, energy driving water cycle, water essential for living things, and water limitations and conservation.

Grades K-6 Earth Resources Theme
3.10 – impacts on survival of species, including effects of fire, flood, disease, and erosion on organisms; effects of human activity on air, water and habitat; and conservation and resource renewal.
4.9 – Virginia natural resources, including watersheds, water resources, and organisms.
6.9 – public policy decisions related to the environment (including resource management and conservation, land use decisions, hazard mitigation, and cost/benefit assessments).

Grades K-6 Living Systems Theme
6.7 – natural processes and human interactions that affect watershed systems; Virginia watersheds, water bodies, and wetlands; health and safety issues; and water monitoring.

Grades K-6 Matter Theme
6.5 – properties and characteristics of water and its roles in the human and natural environment.

Life Science Course
LS.11 – relationships between ecosystem dynamics and human activity.

Earth Science Course
ES.1 – current applications to reinforce science concepts.
ES.6 – renewable vs. non-renewable resources (including energy resources).
ES.7 – geologic processes, including plate tectonics.
ES.8 – influences by geologic processes and the activities of humans on freshwater resources, including identification of groundwater and major watershed systems in Virginia, with reference to the hydrologic cycle.
ES.10 – ocean processes, interactions, and policies affecting coastal zones, including Chesapeake Bay.

2015 Social Studies SOLs
Grades K-3 Economics Theme
2.8 – natural, human, and capital resources.
3.8 – understanding of cultures and of how natural, human, and capital resources are used for goods and services.

Virginia Studies Course
VS.1 – impact of geographic features on people, places, and events in Virginia history.
VS.10 – knowledge of government, geography, and economics in present-day Virginia.

Civics and Economics Course
CE.7 – government at the state level.
CE.8 – government at the local level.
CE.10 – public policy at local, state, and national levels.

World Geography Course
WG.2 – how selected physical and ecological processes shape the Earth’s surface, including climate, weather, and how humans influence their environment and are influenced by it.
WG.3 – how regional landscapes reflect the physical environment and the cultural characteristics of their inhabitants.
WG.18 – cooperation among political jurisdictions to solve problems and settle disputes.

Government Course
GOVT.8 – state and local government organization and powers.
GOVT.9 – public policy process at local, state, and national levels.
GOVT.15 – role of government in Va. and U.S. economies, including examining environmental issues and property rights.

Virginia’s SOLs are available from the Virginia Department of Education, online at http://www.doe.virginia.gov/testing/.

Following are links to Water Radio episodes (various topics) designed especially for certain K-12 grade levels.

Episode 250, 1-26-15 – on boiling, for kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Episode 255, 3-2-15 – on density, for 5th and 6th grade.
Episode 282, 9-21-15 – on living vs. non-living, for kindergarten.
Episode 309, 3-28-16 – on temperature regulation in animals, for kindergarten through 12th grade.
Episode 333, 9-12-16 – on dissolved gases, especially dissolved oxygen in aquatic habitats, for 5th grade.
Episode 403, 1-15-18 – on freezing and ice, for kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Episode 404, 1-22-18 – on ice on ponds and lakes, for 4th through 8th grade.
Episode 406, 2-5-18 – on ice on rivers, for middle school.
Episode 407, 2-12-18 – on snow chemistry and physics, for high school.
Episode 483, 7-29-19 – on buoyancy and drag, for middle school and high school.
Episode 524, 5-11-20 – on sounds by water-related animals, for elementary school through high school.
Episode 531, 6-29-20 – on various ways that animals get water, for 3rd and 4th grade.