Water-sewer task force hears groundwater proposal

Published 2:18 pm Saturday, February 11, 2017

Two representatives from the Hampton Roads Sanitation District presented an overview of a new wastewater treatment technology to the Isle of Wight intergovernmental water-sewer task force during the task force’s monthly meeting on Thursday at the Isle of Wight Volunteer Rescue Squad building in Smithfield.

The new technology, known as SWIFT — which is an acronym for sustainable water initiative for tomorrow — would restore wastewater from sewers to drinking water standards and re-inject it deep into the ground to replenish the Potomac Aquifer, which spans from northern Virginia through Hampton Roads. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality believes that current municipal withdrawals from the aquifer are approaching unsustainable levels and have asked towns, cities and counties throughout the state to look into ways to reduce their dependence on well water, which is why the HRSD has been experimenting with SWIFT.

“We rely on our saltwater and freshwater resources for our economic development,” said HRSD’s chief of planning and analysis, John J. Dano, who was one of the two presenters at the water-sewer task force meeting. “The region is facing many water challenges, including the Chesapeake Bay restoration, groundwater depletion, relative sea level rise, sanitary sewer overflows and saltwater intrusion into aquifers.”

He said that the Hampton Roads region has seen a measurable drop in groundwater levels since the early 1900s when wells only required valves, not pumps, resulting from unsustainable private and municipal pumping, which is why HRSD is studying ways to replenish the Potomac Aquifer.

According to Dano, HRSD’s initial feasibility study on pumping wastewater back into the ground has already been completed and a small prototype facility has been constructed at their York River location. However, no water is being pumped into the ground yet at this facility. Plans for another demonstration facility with a capacity of 1 million gallons per day located at HRSD’s Nansemond River facility in Suffolk are in the works, with the facility expected to be operational by 2018.

He expects HRSD to have all necessary permits from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Virginia DEQ and the Virginia Department of Health for underground injection by 2020, and to have the first full-size SWIFT facility started up as early as 2022.

Task force members were intrigued by the technology but skeptical, with task force chairman and Smithfield Supervisor Dick Grice expressing concerns over whether the technology could provide the county with any measurable benefit anytime soon.

“We need to be planning for the next five years before we go planning for 2030,” Grice said.

Task force vice chairman Andrew Gregory, who also serves as Smithfield’s vice mayor, asked whether it would be possible to partner with private industry to implement the technology in the county, such as having it installed at the source of some of the county’s biggest water and sewer users, like the International Paper mill. Isle of Wight County’s assistant director of planning and zoning, Richard Rudnicki, also asked how confident HRSD was that the various state and federal regulatory agencies would approve their plans.

“We’ve had a lot of discussions and our general manager has been traveling to Washington [D.C.]; everyone agrees that this is the right way to spend money for this region.,” Dano said, adding that he expected HRSD’s biggest hurdle to be getting the treated water to match the hardness of the natural groundwater in this area.

“We’re confident we can produce drinking water; the challenge is creating water that matches the aquifer,” he said. “We looked at a membrane based approach, reverse osmosis. What we’re learning is the total dissolved solids in the Potomac Aquifer groundwater are between 1,370 to 4,870 milligrams per liter [as measured at the Suffolk treatment plant.] RO water clashes with that, and we’d have to add back a lot of hardness and solids.”

Following the presentation by HRSD representatives, the county’s director of utility services, Don Jennings, gave a presentation on the county’s total sewer and private well systems, and Rudnicki presented estimates on how Isle of Wight’s projected population growth would affect its water needs through 2040.

According to Jennings, the county, to include the towns of Smithfield and Windsor, has a total of 31 sewer pump stations, 39 miles of sewer infrastructure between Carrollton and Camptown, and 51 total miles of pipe. He added that almost half of the monetary value of all the county’s sewer assets is currently in Windsor.

As for private wells, Jennings said there are 19 private well systems with 15 or more customers per well, and none of the private wells are treating the water pumped from the ground, which means those systems may have fluoride concerns due to the naturally high fluoride levels found in the county’s groundwater.

Rudnicki said that based upon the most recent population projections for the county through 2040, the projected consumption of water throughout the county will likely be between 2.26 to 2.39 million gallons per day according to  Weldon Cooper study, which Rudnicki said was the most conservative estimate. The most aggressive estimate the county received was a Hampton Roads Planning District Commission study, which predicted between approximately 3.6 to 3.9 million gallons per day.

The task force also now has a Hardy District representative, David Tucker, a mechanical engineer who was recommended by Hardy District Supervisor Rudolph Jefferson.