Mr. Britt McMillan a hydrologist for the Acadia Consulting group made a presentation to the Accomack County Board of Supervisors at Wednesday night’s meeting. McMillan has served as a consultant to the Eastern Shore Groundwater Committee for 20 years. The group monitors the Yorktown and Columbia aquifers to determine the effects of pumping water for residential and industrial use.
McMillan said that the overall withdrawal from the Yorktown aquifers has flat lined remaining steady over the last 10 years. He also said that while fresh water is limited and the freshwater lens is susceptible to over use, regionally the smaller lens of fresh water has not adversely affected the resource. He said that lowered water levels has resulted in some very localized salt water intrusion.
McMillan continued that use over the last 10 years has been steady. He said that water levels and the size of the fresh water lens appears to have stabilized. McMillan also said that based on the current understanding of the aquifers, overall use appears to meet the United Nations definition of “sustainable use.”
McMillan said that effects of additional use on the resource will depend on location of the withdrawal and the aquifer used. The Columbia Aquifer is considered far more sustainable.
Recently Tyson Foods agreed to withdraw much of it’s water from the Columbia Aquifer instead of the Yorktown Aquifer. The Board of Supervisors agreed to request that Perdue also divert some of its water withdrawal to the Columbia as well.
McMillan said that ways to minimize the threat of saltwater intrusion include withdrawing water closer to the center of the aquifer when possible and maximizing the use of fresh water ponds when possible. McMillan also said water use can be reduced by using low flow or ultra low flow plumbing fixtures; using Xeriscope landscaping; Maintaining green space that does not allow development and using LIDD stormwater controls that increase recharge.
McMillan also said that while there could be a significant damage if the Yorktown Aquifer were over pumped, the Columbia Aquifer is not used as much as it could be.
He said the DEQ is currently working hard on getting a handle on unpermitted water use.
Supervisors Grayson Chesser and Paul Muhley both said that McMillan has served the Groundwater Committee well and has always been honest with his findings no matter what they revealed.
Chesser said “I was once very concerned about ground water, but now feel much better about the supply for the Shore.” Chesser said that while we always need to be concerned about over use of our water supply, it looks like there is adequate water to supply the residential and commercial needs of the Eastern Shore.
Supervisor Harris Phillips asked McMillan if desalinization would be a possibility in the future. McMillan said that back around 1980 that option was investigated for Chincoteague and found to be way too costly. But now the cost of desalinization has fallen exponentially and that could be an option if needed in the future. He said that new equipment and techniques could make the process available to use going forward.