Following a request at the last Northampton Board of Supervisors meeting, Shannon Alexander with the Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission presented an update on the current groundwater supply situation for Northampton County.
The Eastern Shore has a ‘sole source aquifer’, with no rivers or lakes, all our drinking water comes from underground aquifers. Most of the wells drilled on the Eastern Shore pull from the deeper Yorktown Aquifer. The Yorktown Aquifer refills slower than the shallower Columbia Aquifer.
According to Alexander, it is a mistake to make large generalized conclusions about the entire aquifer system, because recharging of the aquifer is a very localized process. There is not one large under ground lake. Water use in Parksley will not affect water supply in Cape Charles.
The largest threat to the Eastern Shore’s water supply is salt water intrusion, which can occur as a result of over pumping. According to Alexander, this issue too is a very localized one. If a well gets salt water intrusion, stopping using the well for a short amount of time will allow the issue to fix itself. Alexander concluded saying the use of the Eastern Shore’s groundwater does meet the United Nations definition of ‘sustainable’, which is meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
Supervisor John Coker, whose district is the furthest away from Accomack County, took time at the end of Alexander’s presentation to present what he called the ‘bad news’. According to Coker, who is a member of the Eastern Shore Groundwater Committee, 50 permits on the Eastern Shore are about to be approved which will pump 2-3 million gallons of water a day, a 25% increase, out of the Yorktown Aquifer. Supervisor Oliver Bennett asked him to clarify and Coker responded he was referring to the large CAFO poultry operations in Accomack County. Alexander explained the number given on the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality permits refers to the maximum amount of water used expected, so many of these permitted operations actually use much less.