Thursday, April 27, 2017

Fauquier’s Water Troubles

Fauquier County depends almost entirely on groundwater drawn from fractured bedrock aquifers for drinking and irrigation water. Currently, the county uses 3.9 million gallons of water a day for public supply and domestic use. The availability of groundwater is dependent upon subsurface geologic conditions which are not uniform throughout the County. Fauquier County includes parts of the Blue Ridge, the Culpeper Basin, and the Piedmont geological province. A key factor isn’t just how much water you’re pumping out of the ground, but rather where in the watershed and in what geologic province you are pumping. Different locations within the county have different water availability. The County can’t change the underlying geology or control the rate or pattern of groundwater recharge. Instead Fauquier must yield to nature.

Sustainability and availability of groundwater resources in Fauquier County is a concern for water managers and planners. As their comprehensive plan calls for development that will increase population 140% limitations of the water supply have already created problems. Suburban development has increased water-supply demands, added impervious surfaces that may have reduced groundwater recharge, and possibly caused transfers of water between basins through water distribution and sewer systems. When the county designed and built the service areas for the various communities natural watershed and water availability was not considered. At the time little wa know about the groundwater hydrology of the area.

Water availability is of particular concern in Marshall, where the Fauquier Water and Sanitation Authority (FCWSA) reported a 40 to 60 foot drop in the water levels over the past four years. Diminished water supply has left the town with inadequate water pressure despite lowering equipment and adjusting the pumping schedules. Some of the Service Districts within the County are potentially threatened by either the presence of land uses that could, or have, adversely impact groundwater quality and/or are within areas where current or future groundwater withdrawals may exceed recharge rates. According to Jamie Emery, Emery & Garrett Groundwater Investigations of the 42 inches of annual rainfall in the County, only about 6 to 10 inches contribute to groundwater recharge.

FCWSA and Fauquier County have invested more than$100 million in wells and water infrastructure throughout the county. These investments include: pump stations, pipelines, water tanks, treatment systems and more. Yet with all this money spent there has been no money spent on protecting the wells and their recharge zones. The County has not even defined the groundwater recharge areas for its existing wells. Chemical spills or leaks from fuel storage tanks can go unnoticed until they contaminate public water sources. Changes in land use can adversely impact groundwater quality. Yet the County does not have land use policies that protect and preserve its critical groundwater resources.

Unfortunately, Service Districts are not neatly overlain over the best portions of a watershed drainage area because that wasn’t the key factor in deciding the original location of those districts. In 2014 Fauquier County held a “Water Summit.” It was determined that despite a cost of about half a million dollars, Fauquier needed a study of the groundwater resources in the county. A detailed study designed by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and spearheaded by the USGS and Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) would address most of the issues and challenges to moving forward in the development of the County’s water supply and the professional management of its water resources. The County determined that there are many efficiency, cost-saving, strategic, professional, and long-term benefits to gaining a broad understanding of Fauquier County’s groundwater resources. There are also short-to-mid-term, practical and applied benefits as well.

With the implementation of the study that is to be completed at the end of the second quarter in 2021, Fauquier begins down the road to sustainable groundwater use. Honestly if the public water supply had not been dependent on groundwater the private wells in the county would have been long dry before sustainable groundwater and land use, zoning and overlay districts were managed in an informed way.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Arbor Day in Gainesville District

Tomorrow, April 25th 2017 Gainesville Supervisor Pete Candland and I will have the honor of celebrating Arbor Day at the Mullen Elementary School in Manassas. I will be there on behalf of the Prince William Soil and Water Conservation District, the district provides trees, program capsules and certificates of recognition to each participating school.
Arbor Day 2016 in Haymarket

Arbor Day was an early recognition of the need for sustainability in how we live on the earth. Arbor Day was founded in Nebraska by J. Sterling Morton in 1872 when a million trees were planted in a single coordinated effort to counteract the deforestation that had occurred as trees were harvested to support the growth of the nation. Without trees and native plants to anchor and build the top soil, host bacteria and insects to decompose and repair the waste the land died. It had no natural life. This had resulted in floods and droughts, infertile and barren soil, and even the extinction of entire communities as the land seemed to be used up and blown away across the prairie.

In his speech to the school children who had planted and later cared for many trees, Mr. Morton described the great oneness of nature in all its parts. Then as now mankind is dependent on plants for life, for the wealth, for beauty and food, and for the recycling nutrients into the earth. Trees also protect our waterways.

Trees, shrubs and other plants that grow next to streams and rivers are also called Forest buffers and riparian forests. Forest buffers are a waterway’s last line of defense against pollution that washes off the land. They slow the flow of stormwater runoff trapping sediment and allowing polluted water to soak into the forest floor preventing soil from being washed into our river and streams. The trees’ roots absorb excess nutrients and store it in plant leaves and limbs before it can wash into our streams and rivers. The leaf litter, seeds and other plant materials that forest buffers drop into the water form the foundation of the freshwater food chain, and fallen branches, logs and woody debris can create habitat for insects, amphibians, crustaceans and small fish. The connecting forested buffers provide the migratory corridors for local wildlife. 
Arbor Day 2016 planting a red bud

The trees have disappeared along many of our rivers and streams because of development, agriculture and erosion. We need to replant the trees. The benefits of forest buffers increase over time as trees grow and mature. And after their first few years in place, forest buffers need little maintenance, but continue to provide beauty, shade and all their ecological benefits.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Spring Time to Flush the Pipes

On March 20th Fairfax Water, Loudoun Water and the Arlington Department of Environmental Services began flushing their water distribution systems. Each spring for about 12 weeks Fairfax Water, Loudoun Water and Arlington flushes its water mains by opening fire hydrants and allowing them to flow freely for a short period of time. In addition, the Washington Aqueduct and Fairfax Water temporary change how the water is disinfected.
from Fairfax Water

For most of the year, chloramines, also known as combined chlorine, is added to the water as the primary disinfectant. During the spring the water treatment plants switch back to chlorine in an uncombined state, commonly referred to as free chlorine. This free chlorine reacts with sediments suspended during flushing and kills bacteria that may be in the bio-film that forms on the pipe walls. Many water chemistry experts believe this short exposure to a different type of disinfectant maintains a low microbial growth in the bio-film and improves the quality and safety of the water. For the Washington Aqueduct this change ran from March 20 and ended on April 17, 2017. For Fairfax Water and Loudoun Water customers this began on March 27 and will last through June 19, 2017.

This change in disinfection is an annual program to clean the water distribution pipes and maintain high water quality throughout the year. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Washington Aqueduct provides water to the District of Columbia, Arlington County, and other areas in Virginia. Fairfax Water provides water to Fairfax county and parts of both Loudoun and Prince William County. Both Fairfax Water and the Aqueduct switch from chloramine to chlorine during this period. DC Water is completing their pipe flushing. Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) abolished its preventative flushing program 15 years ago to save money. In recent years WSSC has been plagued with discolored water complaints.

Those of you in the Fairfax, Loudoun and Arlington service areas may notice a slight chlorine taste and smell in your drinking water during this time, this is not harmful and the water remains safe to drink. If you are a coffee and tea lover like me, use filtered water or leave an open container of water in the refrigerator for a couple of hours to allow the smell to dissipate. Water customers who normally take special precautions to remove chloramine from tap water, such as dialysis centers, medical facilities and aquarium owners, should continue to take the same precautions during the temporary switch to chlorine. Most methods for removing chloramine from tap water are effective in removing chlorine. The annual chlorination is important step to remove residue from the water distribution system.

Flushing the water system entails sending a rapid flow of chlorinated water through the water mains. As part of the flushing program, fire hydrants are checked and operated in a coordinated pattern to help ensure their operation and adequate flushing of the system. The flushing removes sediments made up of minerals which have accumulated over time in the pipes as well as bacteria on the bio-film. An annual flushing program helps to keep fresh and clear water throughout the distribution system. Removing the residue ensures that when the water arrives in your home, it is the same high quality as when it left the water treatment plant. 

During the spring flushing program your water may look or taste different.  Free chlorine is quicker acting than chloramines, which allows it to react with sediments suspended during the flushing which may result in temporary discoloration and the presence of sediment in your water. These conditions should be of very short duration and the water is reported to be safe. Though, remember you still need to treat tap water before using it in a fish aquarium. Disinfectants can harm fish. Check with a local pet store to learn what types of chemicals you need to add to the tank to neutralize the effects of the disinfectant.

During the spring flushing you may notice a white of bubbly appearance or a chlorine taste and odor in your drinking water. The bubbly appearance is simply a result of the oxygen in the water being stirred up during flushing causing visible air bubbles. Let the water sit for a few seconds and you will see the bubbles clear from bottom to top. The chlorine taste can be removed by filter or by simply letting the water sit in an open container in your refrigerator. If you are especially sensitive to the taste and odor of chlorine, filters commonly used in refrigerators are very effective at removing chlorine- change your filter. 

Monday, April 17, 2017

Power Lines through Haymarket

After more than two years the State Corporation Commission (SCC) has rendered their decision. The SCC found that the Haymarket 230kV Line and Substation project is necessary for Dominion Power to comply with mandatory reliability standards. In addition, while a single customer is driving the current need for the line, the Commission further stated that the project will permit Dominion Power to maintain reliable electric service to its other customers and support overall growth in the area. The SCC determined that the Railroad and Carver Road routes both met the statutory criteria, but that the Railroad Route is preferable. Their justification is that these options will "minimize adverse impacts.”
Red is Rail Road route, Green is Carver route.

The Commission further concluded that of these two routes, the Railroad Route is preferable because it has lesser impact on local residences. The Railroad Route is the only route that impacts zero residences within 200 feet of the centerline, though the power towers will clearly be visible from nearby homes and homes 500 feet from the center line could be impacted. The heavily wooded area along this route will provide significant screening reducing the visual impacts of the line. However the woods and hydrology will be irreparably impacted. The proposed transmission line would be run on steel poles, with an average height of 110 feet, and require 100-120 foot wide path for the right of way, according to Dominion Power.

The increased energy demand is not for future growth of the Haymarket area and the Rural Crescent of Prince William County, but rather for a single customer with the equivalent demand for power of 700,000 homes. This entire project is to deliver power to a data centers for Amazon. Dominion and the SCC state that this will also strengthen electric reliability for the local area by providing a new source of power and a double circuit line or "loop" provides a networked source, but the locating of a data center outside of the industrial corridor is what is driving the need for the project. The Rural Crescent is not a growth area, or at least not intended to be. Allowing this level of power into the area is another step in the destruction of the Rural Crescent.

The SCC noted that the I-66 Hybrid Route, which placed approximately 3.2 miles of the line underground, would have a significantly greater cost of construction and would be more difficult to construct than any of the alternative routes considered. The SCC found that the costs and adverse impacts of the I-66 Hybrid Route were neither reasonable nor in the public interest. The SCC has given Dominion Power 60 days to seek permission from the county authorizing construction of the Railroad Route (which was blocked by action of the Board of Supervisors), or provide notice to the Commission that construction of the Railroad Route remains blocked. If Dominion Power remains legally blocked from construction of the power lines along the Railroad Route, the SCC stated, “… the proposed project would need to be constructed along the Carver Road Route” which is not legally blocked by will visually impact many more homes.

Supervisor Pete Candland has asked the other members of the Board of County Supervisors to stand with him and the Gainesville District to demand that the SCC reconsider its recommendation and select the I-66 Hybrid Route. While the SCC has stated they believe this option is too costly, Supervisor Candland believes that the additional costs should be shouldered, not by the taxpayer, but by the single customer that this transmission line will serve.

I believe that the Rural Crescent is no place for a data center. Though we do not generally think of it that way, a data center is an industrial use, not a commercial use in its need for square footage and power with a very large carbon footprint, diesel generators and fuel storage tanks. Data centers are industrial in their energy and environmental footprint, but they employ very few people and pay only limited taxes. I will support Supervisor Candland because having to pay the cost of burying the power lines might induce Amazon to locate their data center within the industrial zone of the county where it belongs.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Scientists Predict 2017 will be a Banner Year for Lyme Disease

Richared Ostfeld, an ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, N.Y. and Felicia Keesing, an ecologist at Bard College are husband and wife and experts in Lyme disease. They have predicted that 2017 will be a very risky year for getting Lyme disease in the northeast. Lyme disease is caused by Borrelia burgdorferi, a bacterium transmitted through the bite of infected blacklegged tick or deer tick. In general, ticks need to be attached for 36 to 48 hours before they can transmit Lyme disease bacteria. In general, ticks need to be attached for 36 to 48 hours before they can transmit Lyme disease bacteria. These ticks are usually found in wooded areas and have a two year life cycles. 

Since 1990, between 9,000 and 30,000 cases of Lyme disease have been reported annually to federal health officials. Although the true number of cases is unknown, nearly 30 000 confirmed cases were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2008 and 2009, that was the peak number of cases reported but not nearly the total number of likely cases. In a scientific study surveying large medical laboratories in the United States it was found that 3.4 million tests were conducted for Lyme disease in 2008; and it was estimate that 288,000 Lyme disease infections occurred among that patient population.

 Accurate diagnosis and effective treatment of Lyme disease is not always easy, particularly in regions of the country newly invaded by the epidemic. The symptoms of Lyme disease can be confusing and vague. Typical symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, and a characteristic skin rash called erythema migrans (a bullseye rash). Lyme disease is diagnosed based on symptoms, and the possibility of exposure to infected ticks; laboratory testing is helpful if used correctly and performed with validated methods. However, the accuracy of lab tests has been generally poor in the past, though they are improving, the occurrence of Lyme disease may be vastly underreported and treated. If Lyme disease is left untreated for some time, B. burgdorferi may persist in the patient's tissues and can migrate to the central and peripheral nervous system or to joints and cause more-severe late-stage symptoms, which include arthritis and neurological disorders, such as dizziness, memory loss and disorientation.

Though Lyme disease is not a new disease it is spreading. Scientists Drs. Richard Ostfield and Felicia Keesing have been studying Lyme disease for more than 20 years. They have found that understanding the life cycle of the ticks that transmit Lyme disease bacteria can help in understanding the risk of getting the disease and strategies to avoid it. There is no vaccine to protect you so you have to prevent exposure. Drs. Ostfield and Keesing have come up with an early warning system for the disease. They can predict how many cases there will be a year in advance by looking at one key measurement: the size of the mouse population the year before. The explanation for why this works is simple: Mice are highly efficient transmitters of Lyme. According to the scientists mice infect up to 95 % of ticks that feed on them and are responsible for infecting the majority of ticks carrying Lyme in the Northeast. A single mouse can have up to 100 ticks covering its ears and face.

The complete life cycle of Ixodes ticks takes 2 years. Tick eggs are laid in the spring, and hatch as larvae in the summer. Larvae feed on mice, birds, and other small animals in the summer and early fall. The larvae may become infected with Lyme disease bacteria when feeding on these animals. Once a tick becomes infected, it stays infected for the rest of its life and can transmit the bacteria to other hosts. After this initial feeding, the larvae usually become inactive until the following spring, when they change into nymphs.

Nymphs seek blood meals in order to fuel their growth into adults. Nymphs feed on small rodents and other small mammals in late spring and early summer. Nymphs will also feed on humans, and if previously infected with Lyme disease bacteria, they can transmit the disease to humans. Nymphs molt into adult ticks in the fall. In the fall and early spring, adult ticks feed and mate on large animals, such as deer. Adult female ticks will sometimes also feed on humans. In spring, adult female ticks lay their eggs on the ground, completing the 2-year life cycle. The CDC reports that most people are infected through the bites of the nymphs which feed during the spring and summer months. The tiny nymphs are almost impossible to find on your body. Adult ticks can also transmit Lyme disease bacteria, but they are much larger and more likely to be discovered and removed before they have had time to transmit the bacteria.

The risk of exposure to ticks is greatest in the woods and in the edge area between lawns and woods; however, ticks can also be carried by animals onto lawns and gardens and into houses by pets. Now is the time to seal up all likely mouse entry points to keep mice out of the house. A mouse can fit through the narrowest gap, seemingly flattening themselves to crawl into the house. According to the Center for Disease Control a gap of a quarter of an inch or a hole the size of a pencil eraser is large enough for a mouse to enter. A systematic approach is best for sealing all entry points. First of all, there is no way to prevent mice from getting into the garage because garage doors just do not seal that tight in their tracks. Instead, it is necessary to keep all nesting material and clutter out of the garage and seal all entries to the house. Protect yourself from potential exposure to the nymph ticks in your home and garden.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Stink Bugs Impact Red Wine Flavor

The brown marmorated stink bug officially known as Halyomorpha halys congregate in early fall in the afternoon waning sun. The stink bug is not harmful to people, houses, or pets, they do not bite, sting, suck blood or carry disease. They do not eat wood or bore into house. I thought of them as a nuisance, until I saw the damage they caused to tree fruit. To fruit growers and wine makers, stink bugs are much more than a nuisance- they are an economic disaster. A 10% infestation of stinkbugs can damage an entire tree fruit crop. These ¾ of an inch flying bug can hitch a ride on grapes going through the wine making process and foul the smell and taste of the finished wine.

The stink bugs are not native to the United States they arrived from China in the late 1990’s or around 2000 when they were first noted in Pennsylvania. In the United States they do not yet have any natural enemies and they have spread widely in the Mid-Atlantic States causing crop damage. In its native range of China, Japan, Korea it is known as an agricultural pest and has become a serious threat to the fruit, vegetables and farm crops of the Mid-Atlantic region here and has now spread to the northwest wine regions of the United States. Pesticides have very limited effect on the bugs.

The economic damage that the shield shaped bugs are causing in the United States has been a topic for the Department of Agriculture, USDA, and the Land Grant Universities to study. In vineyards, brown marmorated stink bugs feed on grapes, reducing their yield and quality. And because they are relatively small compared to a wine grape and they blend in, the insects hitchhike on the grapes and wind up in the winery. When the grapes are pressed the stink bugs give off their signature stress compounds, tridecane and (E)-2-decenal, that sometimes affecting the quality of the wine and juice.

Agricultural scientists at the USDA and University Agricultural Extension research centers have been unable to prevent the spread of the bug or eliminate the pest from agricultural fields, though work continues. If you are a fruit eater I’m sure you’ve seen the series of small blemishes on apples that sometimes appear at farmer’s markets. Now with the spread of the brown marmorated stink bug to the northwest the wine industry is threatened. In a new study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry:

Pallavi Mohekar, Trina J. Lapis, Nik G. Wiman, Juyun Lim, Elizabeth Tomasino, Am J Enol Vitic. August 2016 : Brown Marmorated Stink Bug Taint in Pinot noir: Detection and Consumer Rejection Thresholds of trans-2-Decenal, ajev.2016.15096; DOI: 10.5344/ajev.2016.15096

scientists investigate the impact of tridecane and (E)-2-decenal on the taste of wine seeking to find the number of stink bugs per grape cluster that will not impact the integrity of the wine. The scientists found that tridecane is odorless, and (E)-2-decenal produces an undesirable musty-like, coriander or cilantro aroma that can ruin a wine. Even if you like cilantro, it is not acceptable in a Pinot Noir. The main focus of this study was to estimate the level of contamination with the stress compounds that could be detected by both consumers and wine professional and the threshold of contamination with stress compounds where a consumer would reject the wine- in the study they used Pinot noir. Interestingly, white wine was contaminated less often than red. The researchers suggest that this is because these two wines are pressed at different points in the winemaking process. The scientists conclude that if winemakers could limit stink bugs to no more than three bugs per grape cluster, the levels of tridecane and (E)-2-decenal in wine would be below the consumer rejection threshold.

I love Pinot noir, and from my days on the west coast I have a deep affection for the Oregon wines. I have some lovely 2005, 2008 and 2010 Oregon Pinot Noir. I plan on keeping those to compare with more recent vintages. It could be an interesting taste test to see if my friends and I can taste any difference.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Upper Occoquan River Cleanup

Spring is here and it’s time for the annual river clean ups. On Saturday, April 8th, 2017, the Quantico Creek Cleanup will be held in Dumfries Virginia to collect trash along the shore of the creek. Volunteers meet at 17757 Main St. in the Jeff Simpson Community Center starting at 9:00am. Supplies will be handed out to each volunteer and they will be driven to various areas of the creek by Town Staff.

The 8th annual Upper Occoquan cleanup will be Saturday, April 22rd 2017 and will run from 9 am to 2 pm. This massive collection of trash from the Occoquan River happens every year and on this side of the river and on the river is the combined effort of the Prince William Trails and Streams Coalition, Trash Free Potomac Watershed, Penguin Paddling, Prince William County Parks and Recreation Department and the Prince William Soil and Water Conservation District (where I volunteer as a director.) Come on out and help us. Trash bags, gloves, water and refreshments will be provided to all participants. This is a true river cleanup. As in previous years, the cleanup will be staged from multiple sites along the river, from the canoe/kayak launch area below Lake Jackson dam, down to Lake Ridge / Hooes Run. This cleanup is done primarily by boat – volunteers with canoes, kayaks or jon boats are needed. The signup has all the launch and take-out locations.

If you are not a boater, you might want to join the Occoquan River Cleanup happens the same day. The cleanup runs from 9 am to 2 pm and there are five different sites to volunteer. See Friends of the Occoquan for a list of location. These cleanups and is part of the 29th Annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup coordinated by the Alice Ferguson Foundation working with the region’s soil and water conservation districts, community groups, employers, and schools happens this time of year throughout the region. The Potomac River Watershed Cleanup is the largest regional event of its kind so that you or your group can still participate this year. It is a great single day volunteer opportunity.

Unfortunately, it is necessary to hold these river cleanups annually. Year after year volunteers clean our roadways, streams, rivers, and streambeds of trash that started as litter and carried along by stormwater and wind into our waterways and parks. We also remove items that were illegally dumped in the woods or carried by off by storms. Don’t litter and teach your children not to litter, that is the best way to prevent trash along our roads, streams and waterways. The trash does not magically disappear, but finds its way carried by stormwater to our waterways and parklands disrupting the natural water flow and beauty of our natural world. Come out and help us make our water ways free of trash.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Governor Proposes to Restore Coal Ash Bill

Last month Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe proposed an amendment to a bill passed by the General Assembly in last winter’s session that requires Dominion Power to study and report on the costs and benefits, risks and recycling options for coal ash now stored in lagoons at the company’s power plants- including the Possum Point Power Station in Prince William County. The Governor’s amendment will restore a moratorium until 2018 on any new permits for coal ash disposal until a study of its risks and possible alternatives for coal ash disposal can be completed.

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax) and Sen. Amanda Chase (R-Chesterfield). Scott Surovell’s district includes the Possum Point site. The governor’s amendment would need to be approved by Virginia’s Senate and House of Delegates when they reconvene on April 5, 2017.

In addition in the March 7th 2017 meeting of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, the Board formally requested that the state delay its decision on the permit until alternatives to the storage plan could be more fully considered. The Board also wrote a letter to the governor that asks that Dominion be required to obtain a third-party analysis of alternatives for permanent disposal or recycling.

If you recall the final bill prohibits the Director of the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) from issuing a permit for the closure of coal ash pond (technically called “coal combustion residuals unit”) until the Director has reviewed an assessment of closure options prepared by the owner or operator of the coal ash ponds. SB 1398 would require that the owner or operator of the coal ash pond:
  • Evaluate the clean closure of the coal ash through excavation and responsible recycling or reuse of coal ash.
  • Evaluate the clean closure of the coal ash through the excavation and removal of the coal ash residuals to a dry, lined storage in an appropriately permitted and monitored landfill, including an analysis of the impact that any responsible recycling or reuse options would have on such excavation and removal.
  • Demonstrate the long-term safety of the coal ash storage, addressing any long-term risks posed by the proposed closure plan and siting.
  • Identify and describe any groundwater or surface water pollution located at or caused by the coal ash storage. 
  • That notwithstanding the provisions of this act, the Director of the Department of Environmental Quality (the Director) shall not suspend, delay, or defer the issuance of any permit to provide for the closure of any coal ash ponds pending the completion by the owner or operator of the assessment. In deciding whether to issue any such permit, the Director need not include or rely upon his review of any such assessment.

The Governor’s amendment would remove the final exemption from the bill’s assessment requirement before issuing a permit.

The coal ash is the byproduct of burning coal to make electricity. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has determined that coal ash is solid waste, not hazardous waste tough it contains heavy metals, including lead, arsenic, boron, selenium and hexavalent chromium. The EPA finalized regulations in 2016 for coal ash storage. The finalized EPA regulation for coal ash requires that coal ash disposal site must have protective liners to prevent groundwater contamination. The rule also requires companies to conduct monitoring of disposal sites, clean up any existing contamination, and close and remediate unlined disposal sites that have polluted groundwater. Finally, monitoring data, corrective action reports, and other important information about the site must be made available to the public.

Possum Point in Prince William County is the first power plant in Virginia to apply for a solid waste permit to permanently close the coal ash ponds on site. Dominion used coal to fire the turbines for the Possum Point, Power Station located on the banks of Quantico Creek and the Potomac River, from about 1948 to 2003. There were 5 coal ash ponds on site: A-E. Coal ash Ponds A, B, and C are currently being decommissioned. One million cubic yards of coal ash from those ponds was moved into Pond D, a 120-acre pond that already contained 2.6 million cubic yards of coal ash. Coal ash Pond E is being decommissioned and was replaced with a water treatment system that began operation this past summer. Dominion Power is proceeding with a plan to “close in place” the 3.7 million cubic yards of coal ash by consolidating and dewatering the coal ash into a coal ash pond they claim is lined, but the adequacy and effectiveness of the old clay liner has been questioned since they proposed this plan.

Dominion Power is trying to obtain a permit to allow them permanently close in place the coal ash by capping the clay lined ponds with an impermeable membrane to prevent infiltration of rain in the future. These old coal ash ponds have been open to the elements and taking on water for decades as well as being in contact with shallow groundwater as was disclosed in the permit applications and modifications. The amendment would require that Dominion do further studies of impact and complete the analysis of the risks of disposal on site and alternatives.

The public, environmental groups, county supervisors and state Senators and Delegates have voice concerns. Many are well founded, but still the process of obtaining permits for the closure was far from satisfactory to most stakeholders; disjointed and unresponsive. If you recall last fall Dominion Power agreed to install additional groundwater monitoring wells and conduct bi-weekly monitoring of the new wells. This brought the total number of monitoring wells to 24 and provided enhanced monitoring and protection for Quantico Creek, the upstream neighbors and the Potomac River from the dewatering of the coal ash ponds at Dominion’s Possum Point Power Station.

The recent sampling of those wells showed elevated levels of boron, chloride, cobalt, nickel, sulfate and zinc upstream of the ponds. The new sampling results were inconsistent with the model of the geology and groundwater in the area that Dominion has used in their permit applications. Groundwater often surprises you. Though, Dominion maintains that there is no evidence that its ash ponds have contaminated drinking water wells near the site, they have announced that they will pay for the homes near the Possum Point Power Plant to be hooked up to the Prince William County Public Service Authority water or receive water filtration systems. Offering the neighbors peace of mind and a safe source of drinking water is the right thing to do.

In addition it is essential that testing of groundwater, surface water sediments, and the water treated at the outfalls should have been done for a broader spectrum of contaminants to better protect the environment and determine the extent of impact if any from the decades storage of the coal ash on site. Though Possum Point is downstream from nearby drinking water supplies and is unlikely to impact local residents beyond what has already taken place over the decades; however, the current level of impact needs to be investigated and monitored for the environment and potential potable uses of the groundwater.

It is possible that trace contaminants including metals (and potentially hexavalent chromium) in the coal ash have already leached into the groundwater, Quantico Creek and Potomac from the coal ash ponds. Permanently disposing of the coal ash on site, when properly done, can be protective of the environment and water resources, but requires an effective liner and cap separating the coal ash from the groundwater and rain in addition to ongoing monitoring and maintenance. All physical barriers fail over time this is addressed by the monitoring and maintaining the systems. Moving coal ash to another site for disposal, could potentially risk groundwater at another location unless the landfill monitors their site for the traces of metals that are common constituents of the coal ash.