Jul 02, 2020

Chickahominy Power to Tap into Potomac Aquifer

Despite strong opposition, the Water Control Board allows Chickahominy Power to tap into Potomac aquifer

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The State Water Control Board issued a groundwater withdrawal permit to one of two natural gas plants planned by private developers in Charles City County, Virginia.

There were approximately 1,400 public comments opposing the approval, reported Virginia Mercury. 

In the 6-0 vote, the board authorized the Chickahominy Power Station to withdraw 30 million gallons of groundwater annually from the Potomac aquifer. The daily cap on the facility’s intake is 82,000 gallons and the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) believes the anticipated impact of the withdrawal is expected to be either undetectable or very minimal.

The decision follows a last-minute change of the withdrawal permit from a special exception to a standard permit. The DEQ previously justified the use of a special exception permit on the grounds that the issuance of a typical 15-year withdrawal permit would not be consistent with the state’s Groundwater Management Act, according to Virginia Mercury. The special exception permit originally created by DEQ limited Chickahominy’s approved withdrawal to seven years and could not be renewed.

“DEQ fails to explain what makes the proposed Chickahominy Power Station ‘unusual’ enough to trigger a special exception, other than the fact that it would fail to be approved for a groundwater withdrawal permit,” said Chesapeake Bay Foundation attorney Taylor Lilley in a Feb. 14 comment. “By that logic, anyone who wished to withdraw from a groundwater management area could be granted a special exception, regardless of the consequences to the aquifer.”

A repeated concern mentioned in written comments filed with DEQ was whether the state had adequately addressed the environmental justice impacts the project will have on the surrounding area of Charles City County, according to Virginia Mercury. 

An independent analysis of the project by Stephen Metts of the New School in New York, submitted to the Water Control Board, found that four census tracts surrounding the proposed Chickahominy Power Station site far exceed state averages for minority and economically disadvantaged populations. 

The DEQ maintains the groundwater withdrawal will not have adverse impacts on economically disadvantaged or minority communities because it won’t have any adverse impact overall. The area that will be affected by a drawdown of the aquifer due to withdrawals extends onto two adjacent commercial or industrial properties, according to a DEQ response to comments.

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