BY STEFANIE JACKSON
Eastern Shore Post
Concerned citizens may have missed an opportunity to speak out publicly against a project that would withdraw up to 11.8 million gallons of water per year from the limited resource of the Eastern Shore’s deep aquifer.
A public notice ran in the Sept. 1 Eastern Shore Post regarding a groundwater withdrawal application for Cherrystone Campground, near Cheriton, to withdraw up to 3.34 million gallons of groundwater a month from the Middle and Lower Yorktown-Eastover aquifers.
However, the public comment period on the matter ended on Oct. 2, and submitted responses may not have been significant enough to prompt a public hearing.
The Eastern Shore’s aquifer system is called a sole-source aquifer because there is no other available source of freshwater, such as river or stream, in the region.
The aquifer system consists of the shallow Columbia aquifer and the deep Yorktown-Eastover aquifer system, which includes the Upper, Middle, and Lower Yorktown-Eastover aquifers.
The greater depth of the Yorktown-Eastover aquifer system allows for increased natural filtration, making it an ideal source of drinking water, officials say.
Around 12% of annual rainfall, an average of 625 million gallons per day, reaches the shallow Columbia aquifer and keeps it recharged.
It’s difficult for rainwater to penetrate clay and reach the deep Yorktown-Eastover aquifer system, and only about 0.1% of annual rainfall, or 9 million gallons per day, reaches that depth.
Residents like Ken Dufty, of Wardtown, are concerned because by their rough calculations, at least 10 million gallons of water per day is drawn from the Yorktown-Eastover aquifer, which he says is unsustainable.
Depleting an aquifer faster than it can be replenished can lead to problems like saltwater intrusion, in which fresh groundwater that has been withdrawn is replaced by saltwater from nearby sources; and subsidence, in which nothing replaces the groundwater that has been withdrawn, causing the ground to sink.
An Eastern Shore of Virginia Ground Water Committee report confirms that the Yorktown-Eastover aquifer’s low recharge rate and the surrounding ocean water make the Shore more susceptible to saltwater intrusion than the Coastal Plain west of the Chesapeake Bay.
However, convincing state officials that the Yorktown-Eastover aquifer is in jeopardy is difficult, as the available data is limited and dates back to the 1980s.
Dufty and other concerned citizens propose that the Yorktown-Eastover aquifer should be used only for drinking water and the Columbia aquifer is adequate for all other uses.
A letter from the groundwater committee to Eric Seavey, the officer of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality who is reviewing the Cherrystone Campground environmental permit application, outlines several issues.
The groundwater committee acknowledges one reason why commercial establishments may prefer deep wells that access the Yorktown-Eastover aquifer: groundwater yield from the shallow Columbia aquifer is typically lower.
However, most wells that access the Columbia aquifer yield more than 20 and up to 100 gallons per minute, which is typically adequate, the groundwater committee noted.
Furthermore, not every aquifer in the Yorktown-Eastover system always produces the desired yield.
Another reason environmental permit applicants give for wanting to access the deep aquifer is the need for potable, or drinking-quality, water.
For example, a local oyster and clam grower requested access to the deep aquifer for potable water to clean its product.
But the groundwater committee pointed out that even though in some areas, water from the Columbia aquifer is potable only through treatment, numerous households get their drinking water from shallow wells.
Even the Town of Chincoteague and YMCA Camp Silver Beach successfully use the shallow aquifer, the letter stated.
Even though the deadline to request a public hearing on the Cherrystone Campground water withdrawal permit has passed, citizens are making their concerns known through other means, such as the Tuesday, Oct. 10, Northampton supervisors meeting.
Granville Hogg, a Northampton County resident who lives roughly 1,500 feet from Cherrystone Campground’s property, objected to the business withdrawing millions of gallons of water from the Middle and Lower Yorktown-Eastover aquifers.
He noted that even his well that accesses the Upper Yorktown-Eastover aquifer has caused problems that have cost him thousands of dollars.
Hogg said, “It’s time for us to stand up and say we need to reserve our groundwater for drinking purposes … not washing the mud off of clams.”