Sunday, November 28, 2021

Proposed Groundwater Study in Prince William County

The PW County Department of Public Works has submitted a proposal to the Prince William County Board of Supervisors for Groundwater Study to address concerns with the impact of future developments and the sustainability of groundwater as a water supply.

The Department of Public Works proposes to have the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) create a Soil Water Balance Model to analyze the impact of development on groundwater recharge to “predict the amount of recharge available for water resource planning for projected changes in land use and land cover. “ That is an essential component, but not enough.

Approximately 15% of Prince William County depend on groundwater for their drinking water. This includes the about 8,000 dwellings in the Rural Crescent, the Evergreen Water District and the other homes in the county on private wells. Though, public water is available to the county population, delivering public water to the homes in the Rural Crescent would cost tens of thousands of dollars per household to run laterals from water mains and untold amounts of money to bring the water mains throughout the rural area. Water mains cost $400-$1,000 per foot and there are miles upon mile of piping that would have to be paid for along with lift stations and other distribution infrastructure by  other water users. In addition, as Mr. Smith points out in his memo to the Board of Supervisors, the water supply is only projected to be adequate until around 2040. The pubic water supply is not unlimited.

 As the Department of Public Works correctly points out there are two monitoring well in Prince William County that track groundwater levels. One well in the Culpeper Basin near the Loudoun County Line and one well in Forest Park in the Potomac Aquifer in the Coastal Plain. The data is publicly available for both wells, but they are not part of any state or local program of monitoring. There are six hydrogeologic groups in Prince William County, and various formations within the two major aquifers. Groundwater is not uniform. Measuring water level 10 or 20 miles away tells you nothing about groundwater conditions in a nearby area.

Two wells are not adequate to know if the groundwater supply is sustainable. The information at the Department of Health is based on reports from homeowners when they need a permit to drill a new well. Someone with well problems would call a well driller to see of they can solve it. The Department of Health would only hear about a well that completely failed and a new drilling permit was needed, where lowering the pump or deepening the well did not help. Groundwater problems are decades in the making, they are very slow and gradual. The Department of Health would be a lagging indicator of a groundwater problem. By the time complaints occur, the problem would be past solution.

Despite what Mr. Smith says in his memo, the groundwater level in the one well in the Rural Crescent has been falling for about 15 years. After recovery of the drought in 2006- 2008, the spring highs in the groundwater level have decreased and the annual lows have gotten lower. You can see in the graph below (the same one in Mr. Smith’s memo) that within the seasonal cycle of groundwater levels that the seasonal highs have been falling slightly (slightly more than a foot) and the seasonal lows are lower. The water level is visibly decaying at a time that Prince William County has experienced the wettest years on record. This is a warning that we are using up the groundwater at least in that one well. It may not be characteristic of the entire county. There needs to be more monitoring to know if water is being used sustainably.

The USGS states: “A natural consequence of groundwater withdrawals is the removal of water from subsurface storage, but the overall rates and magnitude of groundwater depletion in the United States are not well characterized.” Based on a series of studies “Estimated groundwater depletion in the United States during 1900–2008 totals approximately 1,000 cubic kilometers (km3). Furthermore, the rate of groundwater depletion has increased markedly since about 1950, with maximum rates occurring during the most recent period (2000–2008) when the depletion rate averaged almost 25 km3 per year (compared to 9.2 km3 per year averaged over the 1900–2008 timeframe). The depletion in the USGS well in the rural areas only began to occur since 2004.

Prince William County needs to expand the scope of work for the Groundwater study to include sustainability. The residents of the Rural Area cannot afford to pay for the connecting of their homes to the public water supply (that itself is only projected to remain adequate until 2040) and the other residents of the county should not have to pay to buildout the infrastructure to bring water mains throughout the rural area. Prince William County is required to plan for sustainable groundwater to supply all existing and future residents of the rural areas, let’s make sure we are doing it.
from USGS

A consequence of using groundwater is depletion, but the overall rates and magnitude of groundwater depletion in the United States are not well characterized. The map below from a USGS study shows long-term cumulative depletion volumes in 40 separate aquifers in the United States, bringing together information from the literature and existing studies. According to the USGS the rate of groundwater depletion has increased markedly since about 1950, with maximum rates of depletion beginning to occur in this century when the depletion rate averaged three times the rate in the 20th century.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

The Potomac River 1940-2019

For over a century the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers operates Washington Aqueduct and provides drinking water to Washington, D.C., Arlington County and Falls Church. The Aqueduct routinely samples the Potomac River at Great Falls, its source of water for basic water parameters and several pollutants and metals. Their data goes back decades upon decades. Since 2001 the Aqueduct has been putting the water quality reports online, but until now the older data has been unavailable.

The Water quality staff at Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin (ICPRB) recently reviewed and proofed and digitized decades of water data collected from from fading paper records and checked for accuracy to provide a look at Potomac water quality over time. Then the ICPRB updated the dataset to include the data from 2000 to 2019. Using this data they analyzed the changes in temperature, hardness, pH, total solids, chloride, nitrate, and sulfate over the last 80 years since ICPRB was formed in 1940. The water quality data speaks of trends and conditions in the watershed and the condition of Potomac River itself.

Below, I have excerpted some of the findings from the report Potomac River Water Quality at Great Falls: 1940-2019 or you can read the report in its entirety at this link. or you can watch this short video

“Statistically significant increases in temperature since 1940 occurred in the Potomac River. Overall, average temperature increased 6.0 degrees F. It is too facile to simply attribute the 80-year increasing trends to global warming. A more likely factor was the rapid population growth and attendant land and economic changes during this period that substantially altered the watershed upstream of Great Falls. By the early 20th century, the forests that once cooled surface waters had been logged or replaced with open agricultural lands. Forests were recovering in the middle of the 20th century, but agriculture was giving way to development and, with more people, urban “heat islands” were appearing (e.g., Sprague et al. 2006, Jaworski et al. 2007)…Regardless of the cause(s), rising temperatures in the river are a concern. Warming seasons disrupt the life cycles of aquatic organisms, and very hot summers can kill them.”

“Water pH rose from 7.6 to 7.9 between 1940 and 1970 and then stabilized. This rise in pH represents a roughly 50 percent decrease in hydrogen ion (H+) concentrations. The timing of the rise suggests parts of the Potomac watershed were in the process of recovering from the destructive agriculture practices and large-scale logging of the late 18th and early 19th century (Sprague et al. 2006). A contributing factor could very well be the Great Appalachian Valley bisecting the Potomac watershed. The Valley is underlain by carbonate (“karst”) geology, which would tend to reduce the acidity of waters flowing through or across it.”

Chloride concentrations at Great Falls rose significantly between 1940 and 2019, with the highest measured values occurring in winter and early spring. Weathering of rocks and sediment are natural sources of chloride in rivers, but high concentrations also come from winter road salting, fertilizer runoff, and oil and gas production. Road salting during snow and ice storms is now considered the largest source of chlorides to the Potomac and its tributaries in the Washington, D.C. region (e.g., Porter et al. 2020). “

“There has been an increase in chlorides in summer and autumn.This may indicate that groundwater holds chlorides deposited during winter and slowly releases them to the river as baseflow during drier months. Evaporation from the river surface during warm weather could also concentrate chloride in the water.”

The 80-year trends presented show a myriad of environmental impacts to the Potomac River, many of which are relate to population growth and unsustainable uses of the basin’s land and water. Efforts to mitigate these impacts were begun after 1940. They include state and federally mandated upgrades to drinking water and wastewater treatment plants, bans on phosphate detergents, and reductions in coal-burning power plant emissions. A more holistic understanding is emerging of the entire hydrologic system and the landscape that supports it.”

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Small Nuclear Reactors

Some of the money in the $1.2 trillion infrastructurepackage just signed into law by President Biden will be used to support advanced nuclear technologies. The package provides $21.5 billion in funding for clean energy demonstrations and research focused on next generation technologies needed to achieve net-zero by 2050. According to the department of energy some of the money will be used for:

  • $2.5 billion for advanced nuclear, which would provide 24/7 clean electricity when the sun is not shinning and the wind is not blowing.
  • $1 billion for demonstration projects in rural areas and $500 million for demonstration projects in economically hard-hit communities.
  • $6 billion over five years for a new DOE credit program to keep struggling nuclear reactors afloat.

Southern Company,  the nation’s third-largest utility is currently in the middle of the nation’s lone nuclear construction project, Plant Vogtle, in southeast Georgia. The twin reactors are the first to be built from scratch in nearly 30 years and are essential components in Southern’s plan for meeting its net-zero carbon goals. Unfortunately the project also highlights one of nuclear power’s biggest problems: cost and cost overruns. At last report the reactors are now twice their original $14 billion budget and are more than six years behind schedule.

When Georgia originally approved the Vogtle 3 and 4 in 2009, the two 1,117-megawatt Westinghouse designed reactors were expected to cost about $14 billion in total and enter service in 2016 and 2017. Now the estimate is around double and they are not expected to be in service for another year or two. So, the solution seem to be small modular nuclear units or Advanced Small Modular Reactors (SMRs). These units are a key part of the Department of Energy goal to develop safe, clean, and affordable nuclear power options. 

From DOE website NuScale SMR

NuScale’s SMR, developed with the help of almost $300 million from the Department of Energy can be used for power generation, process heat, desalination, data centers and other industrial uses. Their first unit is a 50 MW reactor a small fraction of the 1,117 MW of each of the Vogtle plants. NuScale believes it can avoid the dramatic cost overruns and years-long delays that have plagued construction of traditional nuclear power plants in recent decades. A utility could combine up to 12 SMRs at a single site, producing 600 MW of electricity—enough to power six data centers or a small city. The ability for incremental power additions and the ability to have their cost allocated to the projects that need them rather than the region as a whole. 

Southern Co. Company is also working on SMR systems. They have announced plans to build an experimental nuclear reactor in Idaho using technology from TerraPower, a company backed by Bill Gates. They will build the SMR at the Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory as part of a collaboration that includes the Electric Power Research Institute and 3M. The Department of Energy will fund 80% of the $170 million project, with Southern, TerraPower and the other partners financing the rest.

The Department of Energy states that: “government support is required to achieve domestic deployment of SMRs by the late 2020s or early 2030s.” The  Department of Energy has partnered with NuScale Power and Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) to demonstrate a first-of-a-kind reactor technology at the Idaho National Laboratory.

Supporters of this new generation of reactors argue that they will be able to operate at lower temperatures, have a less volatile radioactive environment and have fewer challenges with spent fuel than traditional generators. However, the permanent disposal of spent fuel and the groundwater contamination from uranium mining are still major environmental issues to be solved. Nuclear power always seem to be just on the brink of success, but we are not there yet.


Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Neabsco Creek Trash Trap

There was be a Ribbon Cutting on Wednesday, November 17th 2021 at 10 a.m. at Neabsco Eagles Park 15801 Neabsco Road; Woodbridge Virginia 22191 for the new Neabsco Creek Trash Trap that will  capture trash in the creek.

Images from PWSWCD

For the last 20 years volunteers lead and inspired by Lynda Sylvastrand have cleaned the stream and streambeds of trash that started as litter and carried along by stormwater and wind into the waterway. They also removed items that were illegally dumped or carried by off by storms year after year. This led to the Woodbridge Potomac Communities Civic Association's (WPCCA) engagement with the Adopt-A-Stream program.

Micron Technology Inc. was the major supporter to Prince William County Public Works in this project. The Woodbridge Potomac Communities Civic Association (WPCCA), Prince William Trails and Streams Coalition and all the Conservation District's Water Quality partners and volunteers for presenting convincing data in support of this project in the community.

During 2016-2017, Prince William County, Virginia, sponsored a study of the upper portion of the Neabsco Creek watershed. The Neabsco Creek Watershed Study is one in a series of watershed studies conducted by Prince William County’s Department of Public Works, Watershed Management section. The studies were intended to aid in planning watershed restoration projects to help the County address existing degradation streams and watershed resources and to make progress toward the countywide mandated (By DEQ and the EPA) pollutant reduction targets for nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment under the Chesapeake Bay Clean Water Blueprint (formerly known as the TMDL). Strangely enough, as they are planning restoration of Neabsco Creek they are also planning to develop the Occoquan Watershed and damage that. The Board of County Supervisors seemed to have failed to learn from the mistakes of the past.

The Neabsco Creek watershed has been highly developed for many decades.  More than half of the Neabsco Creek watershed is developed land, ranging from low-density residential to high-density commercial. Insufficient stormwater infrastructure and loss of natural land cover have damaged water quality and caused stream habitat degradation. Fortunately, we are not drinking the Neabsco Creek, but the trash and pollutants are carried through the watershed to the Chesapeake Bay.

According to the Neabsco Creek Watershed report: “Studies have shown a negative correlation between the percentage of a watershed's drainage area that is covered in impervious surfaces and the health of the watershed's streams (e.g., Giddings et al. 2009; Schueler et al. 2009).”  Surfaces impervious to rain and surface runoff like hard or paved surfaces and the roofs of buildings prevent natural infiltration of stormwater into the ground. The water instead hits the hard surface and flows faster downhill across the landscape, carrying with it any contaminants that it encounters. “The higher speed and volume of water can damage the land through erosion, especially along stream banks when the runoff finally reaches the streams. High, forceful flows in the waterways also alter stream habitat and the changes can be significant enough to cause long-term habitat destruction and poor stream health.”

The extent of development in a watershed impacts stream health. Development results in increased impervious surface area, as new roads are built to access new buildings. Urbanization and industrial development  brings a variety of pollutant sources such as oils, paints, salts, loose sediment, and other contaminants which are deposited on the impervious surfaces. Rainwater then washes these materials and other contaminants (e.g., heavy metals, pesticides, fertilizers, etc) from the land into nearby streams, either directly or through the storm drain network.

Watersheds with less impervious surface are more likely to have better local stream water quality than watersheds with more impervious surface (Giddings et al. 2009; Schueler et al. 2009). Urban development brings increased impervious surface to the watershed. “Schueler, et al. (2009)provided a model based on studies linking stream condition … to the … amount of impervious cover. The researchers noted that watersheds with 10-25 % impervious cover often have negatively affected streams; typical characteristics include clear signs of degradation such as erosion, channel widening, and a decline in habitat quality. Watersheds with 25 to 60 % impervious cover generally have damaged streams; these streams exhibit fair to poor water quality, unstable channels, severe erosion, and an inability to support aquatic life and provide habitat.

Due to concerns about flooding, the county designated Resource Protection Areas (RPAs) throughout the county to encompass and help to protect floodplains along streams. Vegetation management programs for the RPAs are intended to buffer the streams from the effects of storm runoff flows and restrict development that would eliminate the protective environment and the natural flow patterns for the streams. Ditches also appear along major roadways; these typically manage stormwater flow from the pavement, but also serve to convey the trash. Some of the lands draining to headwaters in the Neabsco Creek watershed have networks of ditches and culverts; that were installed to control floodwaters, but also carry trash and pollution to the creek. Thus, we need the trash trap.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Glasgow Meetings Ends on a Positive Note

For two weeks the nations have met and negotiated. The 26th meeting of the Conference of the Parties, called COP-26 in Glasgow, Scotland has closed. Limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius remains  on the table despite the last minute change by China and India to "phase down" the use of carbon fuels rather than "phase out" coal. COP26 ends with global agreement to accelerate action on climate this decade. In truth, the world looks closer to 2.4 C rise than the 1.5 C target.

Though, the accomplishments were weak, all countries agreed to revisit and strengthen their current emissions targets for 2030, known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), in 2022. This will be combined with a yearly political roundtable to consider a global progress report and a Leaders summit in 2023.

The Paris Rulebook, the guidelines for how the Paris Agreement is delivered, was also completed after six years of discussions. All the parties came to an agreement on a transparency process to hold countries to account as they deliver on their targets. This includes Article 6, which establishes a framework for countries to exchange carbon credits through the UNFCCC.

As stated above for the first time, the COP agreed action on phasing down fossil fuels, though not phasing them out. There were also commitments to significantly increase financial support through the Adaptation Fund as developed countries were urged to double their support to developing countries by 2025. 

The United States participation in the Paris Agreement has been done by Executive Order. If you recall, we joined by President Biden's signature, announce our exit under President Trump and rejoined under President Biden. If we are to be held accountable to the commitments made at Glasgow, it is time for the Senate to approve this treaty. 

The United States Constitution provides that the president "shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two-thirds of the Senators present concur" (Article II, section 2). Treaties are binding agreements between nations and become part of international law. Treaties to which the United States is a party also have the force of federal legislation, forming part of what the Constitution calls ''the supreme Law of the Land.''

The Senate does not ratify treaties. Following consideration by the Committee on Foreign Relations, the Senate either approves or rejects a resolution of ratification. If the resolution passes, then ratification takes place when the instruments of ratification are formally exchanged between the United States and the foreign power(s).”

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Virginia's Progress Toward Pollution Reductions in Chesapeake Bay

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation used the U.S. EPA’s bay model to estimate the pollution reductions made between 2009 and 2019 to determine if Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania are on track to meet the 2025 Clean Water Blueprint goals (formerly called the Watershed Implementation Plans), both statewide and for each sector. Excerpts from the group’s summary of Virginia's pollution-reduction progress presented below your can read their entire report at this link.

The wastewater treatment plant upgrades in Virginia (especially in our region) have kept the state on track to meet its goals so far. However, it is not enough to get us to the 2025 goals the Chesapeake Bay Foundation found that Virginia must accelerate efforts in pollution reduction from agriculture and urban/suburban runoff to stay on track to meet the 2025 goals.

Virginia’s Clean Water Blueprint (formerly called the Phase III WIP) is a roadmap for reducing the nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution that is carried by stormwater and waste water into our streams and rivers to the Chesapeake Bay. The EPA has mandated pollution reductions goals and allowed Virginia and the other states to develop a roadmap for getting the job done by 2025. Our plan calls for comprehensive efforts to address agricultural pollution, including increased and more effective financial and technical support for farmers, as well as future requirements to exclude livestock from streams and improve fertilizer and manure management. The plan also proposes to address polluted runoff through improvements to post-construction standards for new developments. Finally, the plan identifies a clear pathway to reduce pollution from wastewater treatment facilities across the Commonwealth, providing reasonable assurance that the 2025 goal will be met.

The key is implementation. In the last three years Virginia passed legislation to support agricultural best management practices and appropriated funding. Still, important steps remain, including developing regulations that ensure future wastewater reductions, establishing dedicated funding for all sectors, and protecting and restoring natural filters such as forests and wetlands in a changing climate. Virginia has made tremendous progress towards improving its rivers and the Chesapeake Bay, but we need to include the requirements of the Chesapeake Bay Clean Water Blueprint into our local planning and decision making. The Commonwealth has a strong plan to make these reductions, but the plan must be implemented in each segment of the watershed. It is the only way to achieve our EPA mandated goals and clean water is critical for the health of our economy and our citizens.

Urban & Suburban Polluted Runoff

Growing urban and suburban areas contribute new polluted runoff to Virginia’s waterways, offsetting most of the progress made to control polluted runoff from existing cities and neighborhoods.

Commitment: Revise and reissue important permits to control polluted runoff from developed areas, including the Arlington Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) Permit, Phase II MS4 General Permit, and the Construction General Permit.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation found that Virginia was behind and off track in this area.


Planning & Growth

Providing a clear plan to address growing sources of pollution represents a critical component of Virginia’s Clean Water Blueprint (Phase III WIP) to achieve water quality goals.  Virginia did not set any specific milestones related to growth, and this is a problem. Virginia is in danger of being off track in this area. 

 Virginia’s Clean Water Bluepint considered forecasted growth and established several goals related to accounting for additional pollution. Virginia committed to re-evaluate post-construction standards to control polluted runoff from new development, although this has not yet been initiated. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation recommends that Virginia establish milestones that specifically contemplate growth. Poultry facilities, new urban and suburban development, and solar power expansion all represent growing sources that need specific regulatory attention to ensure sustainable growth. An evaluation of new post-construction stormwater standards should be undertaken and promptly completed.


The wastewater sector accounts for more than 25 % of Virginia’s nitrogen pollution overall. It makes up an even larger share of pollution in the James and York river watersheds, where wastewater treatment levels lag behind other tributaries and regions. Virginia must continue cutting wastewater pollution to achieve its 2025 pollution reduction goals.

The pollution reduction targets for wastewater have already been met. Virginia could use improvements in the James and York wasterwater treatment to make up for shortfalls in other sectors to meet the Commonwealth’s goals.

Virginia still needs to finalize updates to the Watershed General Permit that will establish new pollution limits for wastewater plants in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation point out that this will incentivize further pollution reductions from wastewater plants directly and through Virginia’s strong nutrient trading program. Innovative technology, including an initiative in Hampton Roads to use treated wastewater to recharge groundwater, provides exciting potential. Plans to connect more homes to sewers and address pollution from septic tanks still need to be achieved.

Agriculture represents nearly 70 % of the remaining pollution reductions Virginia must make to meet its Blueprint goals. Virginia passed legislation that sets a clear goal to exclude cattle from all perennial streams and established an approach to evaluate the remaining work. Virginia farmers continue to implement livestock exclusion practices under the generous Cost Share Program managed by the Conservation Districts, such as fencing and streamside buffers, that are critical for improving water quality and stream health.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation still believes that Virginia must increase funding for agricultural best management practices (the Cost Share Program) and accelerate efforts to achieve its goals for excluding livestock from streams and planting streamside buffers.

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Digital Gateway Should Not Sidestep the Comprehensive Planning Process

The Comprehensive Plan is a document designed to guide the future of Prince William County. The comprehensive plan  presents a vision for the future including the long-range goals and objectives for all activities that affect the community and local government. The comprehensive plan is required by state law to be used as a guide to decision-making about the natural and built environment by the county's Board of Supervisors, and others such as the Planning Commission and Zoning. If properly done the comprehensive plan will guide future Planning and development decisions in the county according to the wants and needs of the communities in an integrated manner.

Prince William County is currently engaged in updating their comprehensive plan. The process requires the collection and analysis of data on the  the environment, traffic conditions, economic conditions, social conditions (such as population and income), public services and utilities (including electricity, water and sewer), and land use conditions (such as housing and zoning). In 2018, the Virginia Legislature amended the comprehensive planning process (§§ 15.2-2223 and 15.2-2224 of the Code of Virginia) to include the requirement that comprehensive  plans ensure the continued availability, quality and sustainability of groundwater and surface water resources on a County level.  The Comprehensive Plan update in Prince William began in 2018 and does not yet address the continued availability, quality and sustainability of water resources for our residents. Seemingly our comprehensive plan does not integrate the goals of our county.

The Prince William Board of County Supervisors voted last November to adopt the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ (COG) Region Forward Vision includes a sustainability goal that calls for a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions of 50 % below 2005 levels by 2030. The Prince Board of County Supervisors went further in their resolution and directed staff to incorporate into the Comprehensive Plan goals of 100% of Prince William County’s electricity to be from renewable sources by 2035, for Prince William County Government operations to achieve 100% renewable electricity by 2030, and for Prince William County Government to be 100% carbon neutral by 2050. How the County will achieved this should be considered a part of the planning process. This has not be considered in the consideration of significantly expanding data centers in Prince William County. 

Drinking water for Woodbridge, Occoquan, Dumfries, Triangle and Hoadly Manor comes from the Occoquan Reservoir  via Fairfax Water. The reservoir’s current storage capacity is estimated at 8.3 billion gallons. Water from the Occoquan Reservoir supplies the Griffith treatment plant which normally serves the customers in the eastern portion of Fairfax Water’s service area and the Eastern Distribution System of Prince William County. 

Prince William County holds about 40% of the Occoquan Watershed; but more importantly, the Occoquan Watershed is more than two thirds of Prince William County land. Decisions made in Prince William County will impact all the customers of Fairfax Water. To properly protect the Occoquan Watershed and the regional water supply, the use of the remaining open land must be restricted. The Prince William County Board of Supervisors issued Directive No. 20-86 for county staff to develop a protection overlay district for the Occoquan Reservoir. 

An overlay district is used to put special restrictions land use or grant special rights to some land. An overlay district could be used to limit the types and amount of development on land within the watershed to protect the Occoquan Reservoir, it could also be ineffective if too loose or constantly overridden by the Board of Supervisors. The protection of the Occoquan needs to be incorporated into the comprehensive plan. 

In July the Prince William Board of County Supervisors initiated an amendment to the Comprehensive Plan for PW Digital Gateway which is within the Rural Crescent to change the Long Range Land Use from AE, Agricultural or Estate and ER, Environmental Resource to Technology / Flex (T/F) . This amendment would create a technology corridor of 2,000 acres along Pageland Lane for the development of data centers.  This project is part of the rural area and a sensitive portion of the Occoquan Watershed encompassing more than one significant creek. The impact to the continued availability, quality and sustainability of both groundwater and surface water, the specific impact to the quality and quantity of water available for the Occoquan Reservoir has not been studied. This is essential to know before irreversibly damaging the watershed.

Power and access to optical fiber are the most important factors in selecting a site for a data center. Each data center uses about 100 MW of power (daily- the equivalent of about 80,000 homes).  The increased base load power usage was 323 MW in NoVa for newly built data centers in the past year alone. Data center power use is driving power demand, load balancing and storage regionally.  Continued growth in data centers could impact the cost and reliability of power to the region especially as we decarbonize. Data centers operate 24/7 and increase the baseload needs for power generation. The cost to maintain the baseload will be added to the rate base for all customers.  How to meet this increased 24/7 electricity demand in a zero carbon world and the impact on electric prices to Prince William County residents needs to be studied before it is approved.

According to Amazon a moderate size data center can us 360,000 gallons of water a day  more than the water used for 5,000 people. While Loudoun County is using reclaimed water for their data center loop, to avoid using treated water; the reclaimed water from UOSA (40 million gallons a day is already reused by the Occoquan Reservoir. The only available reclaimed water would be from the Mooney plant that is 30 miles away. The impact on water supply and prices (if the Service Authority absorbs the cost to deliver water to the Digital Gateway development) to Prince William residential customers. Loudoun Water did not recover their costs and the excess was absorbed into the water rate base.

Approving the Digital Gateway technology corridor of 2,000 acres would have significant financial and sustainability impact on all the residents of Prince William County. If fully built out the data centers could use as much power as 3 million homes, as much water as 200,000 people and impact water quality and cost for the entire region. The analysis of the impacts on the region needs to be studied and considered in the framework of the comprehensive plan not as an amendment to an old plan. Most of the jobs created by data centers are the modest paying support jobs, that need to be filled by people who often depend on public transportation. Adjacent to the Battlefield may not be the right spot for this industrial development. The Board of County Supervisors should not consider the Digital Gateway Proposal until a full analysis and study of the impact of that proposal on: continued availability, quality and sustainability of water resources for our residents, contamination including increasing sodium contamination in the Occoquan ;and finally,  the impact of the proposal on the goals of 100% of Prince William County’s electricity to be from renewable sources by 2035.

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Promises Made

The meeting in Glasgow, Scotland continues after the world leaders who have attended or made their appearances virtually have left. As promised in his speech and delineated in the April 22, 2021 White House press statement, the United States has set a goal to reach 100 % carbon pollution-free electricity by 2035 and net zero emissions throughout the economy by 2050. The President also pledged an interim goal of a 50-52% reduction from 2005 levels in economy-wide net greenhouse gas pollution by 2030. That promise requires that the United States cut about 2 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emission before 2030. The U.S. EPA has not released the promised pathway to achieving these goals because of the uncertainty surrounding the reconciliation and infrastructure legislations which contain both money and programs to achieve that goal. We will need to see if and how congress and regulators back up the President’s promise.  The big question is if President Biden can secure the legislation to deliver on his promises to the rest of the world.

The President’s promise needs to be backed up by having the Senate confirm the Paris Agreement and our promises under them. The United States under President Obama was a key player in negotiating the Paris Agreement and ensuring that greenhouse gas emission reductions are voluntary.  This allowed the United States to join the Paris Agreement without Senate confirmation. Though the Paris Agreement is a legally binding international treaty on climate change, it requires countries to set their own voluntary targets for reducing greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, and to steadily increase those goals every few years. The only binding requirement is that nations have to accurately report on their efforts.


When negotiating the Paris Agreement the Obama administration promised put $3 billion in the Green Climate Fund, the lending fund for aiding developing countries, but failed to get congress to approve a budget with climate reparations. All this was done under executive orders and regulation. Under former president Trump the United States formally announced its intention to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement in one year. Because of the amount of time required to withdraw, the United States attended and was still a member during the Madrid meeting.  Any signatory to the agreement that withdraws can apply for readmission to the United Nations and can be back in within 30 days. That is exactly what President Biden did upon taking office.

The United States is still a significant emitter, we need to take action that is acceptable to the nation under legislation not executive order and confirm in the Senate our commitment to the Paris Agreement if we expect that our promises under the Paris Agreement to be taken seriously. 

The problem is that under the Paris Agreement China has only agreed to stop growing their CO2 emissions by 2030, India has not pledged reductions, several significant emitters have not made any changes to their 2015 pledges and ways to fund Article 6 remains unresolved. The reduction in emissions pledged so far by the other nations even if met are not sufficient to hold temperature change to 2 degrees C according to the climate models, let alone 1.5 degrees C. With China the largest CO2 emitter at more than 27% of the total- more than twice the United States level, the goals of the Paris Agreement cannot be met without reductions in China and the other nations still growing their emissions.