Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Do You Know What's in your Well Water?

Public water supplies are tested daily for contaminants.  Private wells are tested when you do it, and you should do it every year. Prince William County Extension will be having a test your well water clinic next week.  Sign up now online BSE-VAHWQP-PW 2023 Prince William County Virginia Household Water Quality Program | Virginia Cooperative Extension (

Water samples will be tested for: iron, manganese, nitrate, lead, arsenic, fluoride, sulfate, pH, total dissolved solids, hardness, sodium, copper, total coliform bacteria and E. Coli bacteria. Sample kits will be $65  this year. Registration and pre-payment must be online by going to before March 16th 2024. I had no trouble following the link and prepaying. Be aware they will send  a receipt and confirmation of registration from the VCEPrograms  and a payment receipt from the Bursar at VA Tech.

 The Prince William Drinking Water Clinic has 3 parts:

1. Attend a Kick-Off Meeting and Collect Testing Kit Materials, the online registration lets you select from 3 Kick-Off Options:

Option 1: In Person, Woodbridge: Board Chambers, McCoart Administration Building (1 County Complex Ct, Woodbridge, VA 22192):  Saturday, March 23rd 10:00am - 11:00am. 
Option 2: In Person, Manassas: Jean McCoy Conference Room (Sudley Government Center, 7987 Ashton Ave, Manassas, VA 20109): Tuesday, March 19th 6:00pm - 7:00pm.
Option 3: 
Online, through ZoomWednesday, March 20th 11:00am - 12:00pm. If you choose this option, you must also register for the Zoom meeting through this link:
*Test kits for Option 3 (Zoom meeting) must be picked up at VCE-PW Office (8033 Ashton Ave., Suite 105, Manassas, VA 20109): March 21st - 22nd or March 25th - 26th, 9:00am - 4:00pm

2. The Sample Drop Off: Wednesday, March 27th from 6:00am - 10:00am ONLY at the VCE-PW Office, 8033 Ashton Ave., Suite 105, Manassas 20109.

3. Results Interpretation Meeting through (Zoom) on Tuesday, May 7th, 6:00pm - 7:00pm. There will be a live Zoom interpretation meeting co-hosted by VCE Household Water QualityCoordinator Erin Ling and VCE-PW staff to explain the report, include a discussion, and questions and answers. Zoom link and details will be emailed to all registrants.

The number of kits is limited. Pre-payment online is the only way to pay and guarantee you will get a kit. You must pay and register by March 16th 2024. No refunds will be available. Household water quality is driven by geology, well construction and condition, nearby sources of groundwater contamination, and any water treatment devices and the condition and materials of construction of the household plumbing. To ensure safe drinking water it is important to maintain your well, test it regularly and understand your system and geology. If you have water treatment equipment in your home you might want to get two test kits to test the water before and after the treatment equipment to make sure you have the right equipment for your water and that it is working properly. All participant information is kept strictly confidential

The chart below shows what was found in the  private wells tested test of testing  in Prince William County in 2023 (kindly ignore the error in my column titles).


Sunday, February 25, 2024

Salt in the Reservoir

This article is excerpted from the article cited below and the Virginia Tech news release.  

Bhide, Shantanu & Grant, Stanley & Parker, Emily & Rippy, Megan & Godrej, Adil & Kaushal, Sujay & Prelewicz, Greg & Saji, Niffy & Curtis, Shannon & Vikesland, Peter & Maile-Moskowitz, Ayella & Edwards, Marc & Lopez, Kathryn & Birkland, Thomas & Schenk, Todd. (2021). Addressing the contribution of indirect potable reuse to inland freshwater salinization. Nature Sustainability. 10.1038/s41893-021-00713-7.

Inland freshwater salinization historically was once thought to be a problem only in areas with arid and semi-arid climates, poor agricultural drainage practices, sodic soils and saline shallow groundwater. However, today we know that inland freshwater salinization is on the rise across many cold and temperate regions of the United States.  Inland freshwater salinization is particularly notable in the densely populated Northeast and Mid-Atlantic and agricultural Midwest regions of the country like here in Northern Virginia.

Freshwater salinization threatens freshwater ecosystem health and human water security. Chloride enrichment of streams is associated with declines in pollution sensitive benthic invertebrates and loss of critical freshwater habitat. Stream-borne salts can mobilize, nutrients and heavy metals that were previously sequestered into sensitive ecosystems and drinking-water supplies. Salinization of drinking-water supplies can mobilize lead, copper and other heavy metals from ageing drinking-water infrastructure through cation exchange and corrosion. It can also alter the perception of the quality of the water, a high enough concentrations, sodium and other salts degrade the taste of drinking water (coffee and tea).

Inland freshwater salinity is rising worldwide and is now called the freshwater salinization syndrome (FSS). Though increasing salinization is commonly attributed to winter deicing operations, winter application of brine and salt are only a part of the problem. Chronic salinization is primarily a result of increasing population and indirect potable reuse of wastewater-the practice of augmenting water supplies through the addition of highly treated wastewater and down river use of our freshwater resources. Releasing treated wastewater to surface waters and groundwaters has been growing and is encouraged by the EPA along with other forms of water reuse in their Water Reuse Action Plan.

In our own region, both indirect potable reuse of waste water from the Upper Occoquan Service Authority (UOSA) and human activities in the Bull Run and Occoquan River watersheds contribute to salinization of the Occoquan Reservoir in Northern Virginia. More than 95% of freshwater inflow to the reservoir is from the Occoquan River and Bull Run, which drain mixed undeveloped, agriculture, ex urban and urban and increasingly industrial landscapes.

Water from Bull Run includes baseflow (including from groundwater) and storm water runoff from the Bull Run watershed (34% of annual flow) together with highly treated wastewater discharged from UOSA (6% of annual flow) located just over a mile upstream of Bull Run’s confluence with the reservoir. Conceived and built in the 1970s, UOSA was the United States’ first planned application of indirect potable reuse and a model for the design and construction of similar reclamation facilities worldwide. Water discharged from the Occoquan River comes primarily from baseflow and stormwater runoff from the Occoquan River watershed (60% of annual flow).

The scientists found that possible sources of rising sodium concentration in the reservoir include deicer use in the rapidly urbanizing Occoquan River and Bull Run watersheds. Over the past 20 years salt has been added to UOSA’s sewer water from its >350,000 residential and commercial connections. Possible sources of sodium within UOSA’s sewershed include the down-drain disposal of sodium-containing drinking water and sodium-containing household products, use of water softeners in commercial and residential locations, and permitted and non-permitted sodium discharges from industrial and commercial customers.

from Bhide et al

The sodium concentration in UOSA’s effluent are consistently higher than sodium concentrations measured in Bull Run and the Occoquan Reservoir. Using probability analysis of the sodium mass load for the period 2010–2018 confirms that UOSA’s reclaimed water though small in volume dominates the sodium mass load entering the reservoir from the Occoquan River and Bull Run during dry and median weather conditions. UOSA’s contributes 60% to 80% of the sodium loading during dry periods, 30% to 50% during median and 5% to 25% during wet conditions. The Occoquan River and Bull Run watersheds exhibit the opposite pattern, contributing a greater percentage of the overall sodium load during wet weather periods. During wet weather, sodium mass loading from the Bull Run watershed is, on average, higher than sodium mass loading from the Occoquan River watershed, but both are dwarfed by UOSA. Across all timescales evaluated, sodium concentration in the treated wastewater is higher than in outflow from the two watersheds.

from Bhide et al
It begs the question, where does the sodium in UOSA’s reclaimed water come from? The scientists believe that the sodium in UOSA’s water comes from a variety of sources -watershed deicers, water treatment processes, household products, commercial and industrial discharges, drinking water treatment, and wastewater treatment. On the basis of data provided by UOSA they estimate that, on an annual average, 46.5% of the daily sodium mass load in UOSA’s reclaimed water is from chemicals used in water and wastewater treatment (for pH adjustment, chlorination, dechlorination and odor control), a single permitted discharge from the Micron Semiconductor facility and human excretion (our diets are salty). The source of the remaining 53.5% is unknown but the scientist believe it  includes contributions from the down-drain disposal of sodium-containing drinking water from Lake Manassas, the Potomac River and the Occoquan Reservoir, as well as sodium-containing house hold products that eventually end up in the sanitary sewer system.

Fairfax water has been exploring options to address the slowly rising sodium concentration in the reservoir, including the possible construction of a reverse osmosis treatment upgrade. Desalinating fresh water was estimated cost at least $1 billion, not including operating and maintenance costs and a vastly higher carbon footprint. This would include a tremendous loss of volume. Reverse osmosis looses about three quarters of the water. Which is the real problem.

The researchers envision at least four ways in which salt pollution can be reduced: limit watershed sources of sodium that enter the water supply (such as from deicer use), enforce more stringent pre-treatment requirements on industrial and commercial dischargers, switch to low-sodium water and wastewater treatment methods, and encourage households to adopt low-sodium products. 

"Addressing salinization of the Occoquan Reservoir requires working across many different water sectors, including the local drinking water utility (Fairfax Water), the wastewater reclamation facility (Upper Occoquan Service Authority), the state transportation agency (Virginia Department of Transportation), and city and county departments in six jurisdictions responsible for winter road maintenance, including the City of Manassas, City of Manassas Park, Prince William County, Fairfax County, Loudoun County, Fauquier County," said Dr. Stanley Grant  the director of the Occoquan Waster Quality Laboratory and one of the paper’s authors.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Prince William Volunteers are Making a Difference



Year after year volunteers in Prince William County and throughout the region clean our roadways, streams, rivers, and streambeds of trash that started as litter and got carried along by stormwater and wind into our waterways and parks. The volunteers also remove items that were illegally dumped in the woods or carried by off by storms. This 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.

The Prince William County Soil and Water Conservation District (the District) reports that in 2023, their Adopt-A-Stream/Pond/ River Program held 61 cleanup events, where  they had over 1,260 people come out to volunteer. These volunteers did great job removing over 1,300 trash/ litter bags, and 50 tires among other materials were collected (one tire was an old white-wall tire I had found by Chestnut Lick). Combined, all these cleanup events prevented a total of over 26,500 pounds of trash and debris from reaching Chesapeake Bay. These volunteers recorded over 3,000 hours of volunteer time, which would equal over $98,000 in labor costs that the taxpayers did not have to pay.  These events covered a total of over 61 miles of waterways out of the 1,100 miles of streams in Prince William County.

Volunteers under the District’s Chemical Monitoring Program collected data on conductivity, ‘pH, Dissolved Oxygen, Turbidity, Depth/clarity, and temperature. These volunteers conducted 420 monitoring events from 89 sites and recorded over 530 hours of volunteer time. It is worth noting that the chemical data collected supports the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) on its over 100,000 miles of streams in Virginia that its staff cannot monitor. This data goes to DEQ through the Chesapeake Bay Monitoring Cooperative (CMC) as Tier II data.

from PWSWCD water monitoring program

Volunteers under the Biological Monitoring Program collect benthic macroinvertebrate data. This data goes to DEQ under the Virginia Save Our Stream (VASOS) Program.

Right now the District is gearing up for the annual spring cleanup events. You can join in as a single time volunteer at any of these events. The first few are:

Your group can also join the Adopt-a-Stream program and select an area to keep clean. Locate any site (point) on this map or propose any waterway/body close to home and contact for more information.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Safe Drinking Water for Pennies


In 2010 the United Nations General Assembly found that : “Safe drinking water and sanitation are human rights. Access to these services, including water and soap for handwashing, is fundamental to human health and well-being. They are essential to improving nutrition, preventing disease and enabling health care…”


 Since 2015, over 600 million people have gained access to safely managed drinking water services. Globally, three out of four people used safely managed drinking water services in 2020. However, that means that 2 billion people still lacked available drinking water when needed and free from contamination in 2020. The number of city inhabitants lacking safely managed drinking water has increased nearly doubling since 2000 to 771 million people. Each year more than 1 million people are estimated to die from diarrhea as a result of unsafe drinking-water, sanitation and hand hygiene. In addition, another 250,000 to 500,000 die from schistosomiasis and other waterborne diseases.

from UN Report

Even in the United States not everyone has accessible and safe drinking water. According to a 2022 report from DigDeep, around 2 million Americans lack access to running water and/or a flush toilet. This number includes the estimated 560,000 homeless population in our cities and communities that we see every day (and has increased with the influx of undocumented immigrants to our cities), but there are over 1,400,000 mostly rural Americans who are housed but lack running water and basic indoor plumbing. These are the invisible poor that include poor populations located in the rural south and West Virginia, undocumented immigrant communities along the Mexico-United States border, poor communities in the central valley of California and Native American communities in the Navajo Nation.

As an alternative to maintaining and improving our water treatment and distribution system, social scientists suggest that the future of water is “off-grid” water treatment. This might be a strategy for the global poor, not one we should find acceptable in the United States. As one of their products, Folia Materials a small business in Boston has developed an easy to use paper water filter that could help solve this problem. Theresa Dankovich while working on her PhD in Chemistry at McGill University in Montreal invented a method to synthetize silver nanoparticle within blotting paper, which could be directly used as powerful antibacterial filters.

Dr. Dankovich utilized that technology to co-found (with environmental scientist Jonathan Levine PhD) Folia Materials, a Boston-based small business, to commercialize the coating technology. Folia spent years inventing and patenting the world’s cheapest and most effective process for coating ordinary paper that transforms it into an extraordinary useful products. It can be used to replace plastic, filter out germs and viruses in face masks and to purify water.

The fundamental technology is a food-safe, green-chemistry process that forms silver nanoparticles ionically bonded to cellulosic fibers. The company holds the patents on the industrial coating process and aqueous paper coating formulation, which consists of metal salts and catalysts that reduce the silver and bond it to the cellulosic fibers during the coating process.

According to Chemical Engineering Progress: "Manufacturing costs for all products are minimized by using plant-based food ingredients as green chemistry catalysts and silver nanoparticles to minimize the amount of silver required, as well as being able to directly utilize existing paper, coating and packing equipment with no capital modifications required."

from FWG website

The water filtration product was placed in a separate subsidiary, Folia Water Global, to focus on solving the global safe drinking water problem.  Their product  can  filter  20 liters of water for $0.20. This will make the filter an inexpensive grocery shelf product that can deliver safe drinking water. This is possible because manufacturing process uses commodity inputs and standard industrial coating machinery. This is a miracle that is being piloted in Bangladesh . The commercial scale-up is expected to generate enough business and sales data to attract a national distributor. Once they have a national distributor in Bangladesh, they plan to expand in India, Nepal, Kenya, Indonesia, and Vietnam. Folia Water Global and their partners hope to scale the product to $1 billion a year by 2032.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

River Renew Project Extension Expected to Pass

On Tuesday, the 2024 Virginia General Assembly session in Richmond reached Crossover. One of the bills to pass the house in a block vote was HB 71 Combined sewer overflow outfalls; compliance with regulations, Chesapeake Bay Watershed. This bill would extend the deadline to fix the Alexandria’s combined sewer system to July 1, 2026 from July 1, 2024. It is expected to pass the Senate.

In 2017 the state legislature mandated that Alexanderia eliminate sewage overflows from the combined sewer system in Old Towne by 2025. This not only created a major challenge for the city, but was in response to the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load, TMDL mandate. In 2010, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and other plaintiffs settled their lawsuit with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that included a Clean Water Act TMDL, with, enforceable limits on the amount of pollution entering the Chesapeake Bay from the federal impaired waters list. To accomplish this, the six Bay states and the District of Columbia agreed to develop individual plans to achieve those limits by 2025, and EPA committed to holding them accountable and imposing consequences for failure if necessary.

Part of Virginia’s plan requires the elimination of the sewage overflows in Alexandria. The area of Alexandria around Old Town had a Combined Sewer System which is a piped sewer system where there is one pipe that carries both sanitary sewage and stormwater to the local wastewater treatment plant, AlexRenew. This was how sewer systems were often built in the days when sanitation was simply moving sewage out of the city to the rivers and streams. Back then one piping system was cheaper and adequate for the job.

Today when sewage is treated by wastewater treatment plants that is no longer adequate.
When it rains, water that falls in the streets, enters the storm water drains and is combined with the sanitary wastewater entering the sewers from homes and businesses. The combined flow of the sewage and rain can overwhelm the wastewater treatment plant. So, to protect the sewage system as a whole, the combined sewage and rainfall is released into the local creeks from one of the “Combined Sewer Overflows” which are release locations permitted and monitored by the regulators. Though it’s monitored it increases nutrient and bacterial contamination to the streams and rivers and prevents Virginia from meeting its Chesapeake Bay TMDL goals.

When the original legislation passed in 2017, it was an incredibly tight time frame. However,  based partially on the experience of Washington DC in addressing their combined sewer problem, AlexRenew was confident that they could meet this challenge for Alexandria.  The city and AlexRenew submitted a long term control plan to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VDEQ) that was approved on  July 1, 2018.

Then the pandemic hit and caused supply chain issues. These impacts have resulted in a 90-day delay that will put AlexRenew in conflict with the program’s statutory deadline enacted by the Virginia General Assembly in 2017. The deadline established in the legislation to complete the planning, design, procurement, and construction of RiverRenew by July 1, 2025 to meet the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load plan requirement.

To date, AlexRenew has expended $388 million of the budgeted $615 million for the RiverRenew, but they are reportedly a bit over 90 days behind schedule. AlexRenew, in partnership with the City of Alexandria, worked with David Bulova, their legislator, to sponsor an extension to the 2025 statutory deadline. It is expected to pass. DEQ does not expect any regulatory consequences from the EPA in missing this deadline since the project will continue until completion.  

For a really informative video and project updates go to : RiverRenew | Investing in Healthier Waterways for Alexandria

Sunday, February 11, 2024

EPA tightens standard for Particulates

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator (EPA)  Michael S. Regan announced last week that the EPA had finalized strengthening the primary annual PM2.5 standard by lowering the level from 12.0 μg/m3 to 9.0 μg/m3. Fine particle pollution PM 2.5, also known as soot lodges in the lungs which can aggravate other conditions both immediately and long term –cutting months off of lives. According to the EPA, the updated standard will prevent 800,000 cases of asthma, 4,500 premature deaths, and 290,000 lost workdays by 2032. Saying in the press release:

“This final air quality standard will save lives and make all people healthier, especially within America’s most vulnerable and overburdened communities,” said EPA Administrator Regan. “Cleaner air means that our children have brighter futures, and people can live more productive and active lives, improving our ability to grow and develop as a nation. EPA looks forward to continuing our decades of success in working with states, counties, Tribes, and industry to ensure this critical health standard is implemented effectively to improve the long-term health and productivity of our nation.” 

While lowering the annual standard to 9.0 μg/m3 EPA decided to keep the current 24 h standard of 35 μg/m3, saying it didn’t see sufficient evidence to revise it. EPA also retained the current primary 24-hour standard for PM10, which provides protection against coarse particles. EPA is also not changing the secondary (welfare-based) standards for fine particles and coarse particles at this time.

Air pollution in the form of fine particles with diameters smaller than 2.5 microns, called PM 2.5, lodge in the lungs which can aggravate other conditions both immediately and long term –cutting months off of lives. This fine particulate matter can have immediate health impacts: itchy, watery eyes, increased respiratory symptoms such as irritation of the airways, coughing or difficulty breathing and aggravated asthma. Research has connected long term health effects to both short-term and long-term exposure to particulate pollution.

PM 2.5 is either directly emitted or formed in the atmosphere. Directly-emitted particles come from a variety of sources such as cars, trucks, buses, industrial facilities, coal power plants, diesel engines, construction sites, tilled fields, unpaved roads, stone crushing, and burning of wood and the vast forest fires. Other particles are formed indirectly when gases produced by fossil fuel combustion react with sunlight and water vapor. Combustion from motor vehicles, diesel generators, power plants, and refineries emit particles directly and emit precursor pollutants that form secondary particulates. 

from EPA

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, requires states to monitor air quality and ensure that it meets minimum air quality standards. The US EPA has established both annual and 24-hour PM2.5 air quality standards (as well as standards for other pollutants). Since 2000 on average PM2.5 pollution has decreased as you can see in the chart above. However, there are still significant locations where the current air quality goal has not been met. The dark green areas in the map are areas of non-compliance with the current standard. Virginia is in compliance, and hopefully will remain so even with the proliferation of diesel backup generators for the data centers.

from EPA- dark green are the non-attainment areas

According to their press release: “Due to the efforts that states, Tribes, industry, communities, and EPA have already taken to reduce dangerous pollution in communities across the country, 99% of U.S. counties are projected to meet the more protective standard in 2032, likely the earliest year that states would need to meet the revised standard.”

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Global Groundwater Decline

This article highlights the important work that has been done in this area by Professors Jasecchko and Perrone of U.C, Santa Barabara and has been excerpted from the research of the study cited below. All footnotes for the statement of facts can be found in the original article.

Jasechko, S., Seybold, H., Perrone, D. et al. Rapid groundwater decline and some cases of recovery in aquifers globally. Nature 625, 715–721 (2024).


In many parts of the world groundwater serves as the primary or a significant source of water for many homes, farms, industries and cities. Unsustainable groundwater use and changes in rainfall can cause groundwater levels to fall, indicating depletion of groundwater resources. Groundwater depletion can threaten ecosystems and economies. Specifically, groundwater depletion can damage infrastructure through land subsidence, impair ecosystems through streamflow depletion, jeopardize agricultural productivity, and compromise water supplies as wells run dry. Groundwater is both used for water supply and serves to support steam flow between rain storms. Groundwater comes from rainwater and snow melt percolating into the ground.

The authors analyzed groundwater-level trends for 170,000 monitoring wells and 1,693 aquifer systems in countries that encompass approximately 75% of global groundwater withdrawals. (Note that our own Virginia aquifer systems were comparatively stable over the time period.)  The authors complemented measurements from monitoring wells with data from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE). The GRACE mission consists of twin satellites that precisely measure the distance between them as they orbit the Earth. In this way, the satellites detect small fluctuations in the planet’s gravity, which can at large scales be translated to changes in aquifers.

The authors findings provide the most comprehensive analysis of global groundwater levels to date. The work revealed that groundwater is dropping in 71% of the aquifers. And this depletion is accelerating in many places: the rates of groundwater decline in the 1980s and ’90s has increased since 2000 to the present.  The accelerating declines are occurring in nearly three times as many places as they would expect by chance.

They found that rapid groundwater-level declines (>0.5 meter per year) are widespread in the twenty-first century, especially in dry regions with extensive croplands. Though I should note that irrigation is only necessary to make food for people.  Critically, they found that groundwater-level declines have accelerated over the past four decades in 30% of the world’s regional aquifers. This widespread acceleration in groundwater-level deepening highlights an urgent need for more effective measures to address groundwater depletion.

Their analysis also reveals specific cases in which depletion trends have been reversed following policy changes, managed aquifer recharge and surface-water diversions, demonstrating the potential for depleted aquifer systems to recover if appropriate action is taken. This should serve as a warning that our groundwater resources need to be managed sustainability. The Trends in groundwater levels were found to differ from well to well, and groundwater decline can be found even in regions in which nearby groundwater levels are stable or rising, and vice versa.  This observation highlights the importance of analyzing groundwater-level trends at the scales defined by the boundaries of individual aquifer systems.

The authors also analyzed precipitation variability over the past four decades for almost a third of the aquifers. Within this group they found that 90% of aquifers where declines were accelerating are in places where conditions have gotten drier over the last 40 years. These trends have likely reduced groundwater recharge and increased demand. They state that on the other hand, climate variability can also enable groundwater to rebound where conditions become wetter.

Their work indicates that climatic trends, hydrogeologic conditions, groundwater withdrawal rates, land uses and management approaches have resulted in widespread, rapid and accelerating groundwater-level declines. Nevertheless, the compiled in situ observations also capture numerous cases in which declines in groundwater levels have slowed, stopped or reversed following intervention.   They found that in 265 of the  aquifer systems in the analysis, groundwater-level declines have slowed or reversed, or groundwater levels have risen.

In general, rates of groundwater-level increasing are much slower than rates of groundwater-level decline. Of the aquifer systems with rising twenty-first century groundwater levels, only 6% are rising faster than −0.2 meters per year. By contrast, of the aquifer systems with deepening twenty-first century groundwater levels, 25% are falling faster than 0.2 meters per year. Furthermore, across these aquifer systems, the average rate of twenty-first century deepening exceeds the average rate of shallowing by a factor of four. Thus, rapidly rising groundwater levels are rare, but they demonstrate that aquifer recovery is possible, especially following policy changes, managed aquifer recharge, and inter-basin surface water-transfers. What this study says is we need to actively manage the groundwater (in conjunction with surface water) for a sustainable future. Remember, Of all the water on earth only about  3% is fresh; however, only ½% of the water on earth is available for mankind to use. The rest of the fresh water is locked away in ice, super deep groundwater or polluted beyond redemption.

Sunday, February 4, 2024

Restoration Continues in the Woodland

path within the woodland

First it snowed then snowed again. Next was rain and even more rain. January had been a tough weather month in my garden. But finally, late last week, the woodland restoration work for the year began. Quite appropriately Friday was Groundhog Day and Punxsutawney Phil, the renowned groundhog predicted an early spring is on the way.

As I’ve mentioned, my house sits on a bit over 10 acres, about three of them lawn and ornamental gardens. The remaining seven acres is woodland, and much of the woodland is part of the “resource protected area,” RPA of the Chesapeake Bay. The number of dead and dying trees had increased dramatically due to the emerald ash borer and a number of years ago it became obvious that the invasive vines especially the autumn olive and Japanese honeysuckle were choking out the natural renewal process.

After a couple of false starts and outrageous advise to plow down the woodland and vines, about six or seven years ago I consulted with an Urban and Community Forestry Specialist from the Virginia Department of Forestry. He came out and inspected the woodland and made some recommendations.  He felt that with hand removal of the invasive vines and the hanging dead trees the wood might begin to renew itself. Removal by hand is slow and expensive work. It takes years and years and must be continued.

The Forester put his recommendations in a short report for me to submit to Clay Morris, Natural Resources Section Chief, Environmental Services Division of Prince William County Public Works to approve the work in the RPA. Though the RPA covers just 2/3 of the woodland, I am treating all the wooded area in the same way. My proposal to Prince William County was hand removal of invasive species. So, five years ago with the guidance from the Forest Service and the Chesapeake Bay Act guidelines I began a project to restore my woodlands.  

On Thursday and Friday, the Wetland Studies and Solutions  team was out continuing the slow work of first tagging, cutting and then removing the invasive species in the woodland. On Friday, Clay Morris from Environmental Services Division of Prince William County Public Works came out to view our progress and I walked him around inside the woods, down the hill towards the creek, through the mud where there is a seep above Chestnut Lick creating vernal pools.

A seep is the low pressure twin of spring and occurs where groundwater discharges to the surface. In my case the groundwater is appearing where the hill cuts down to the creek. Usually, seeps are merely wet areas with vernal pools , and springs have flowing water. On Friday, while walking with Clay for the first time I saw the water flowing out of the ground. Groundwater discharge provides a constant supply of water to the seep.  Flows at many seeps persist even through the driest summer months. I did not see my own seep in August of last summer during the very dry two months, but there was lots of ground cover growth.

Typically, with seeps, the soil  remains saturated year round even during droughts. Seeps are often the headwaters of perennial streams and have traditionally been used as sites for the construction of spring boxes for household water supplies. Groundwater in our region is typically about 50 degrees Fahrenheit  and varies only a few degrees from this temperature. The constant gentle flow of water at this moderate temperature typically allows early spring development of grasses and sedges. This early spring vegetation can be an important source of food for wildlife. 

Both seeps and springs are considered types of wetlands and are an example of the hydraulic balance- groundwater flowing and surfacing on land. Sometimes springs and seeps flow after a deluge of rain, but here it was still flowing a week after the last rain in wet January. Typically, I do not walk the woods in winter, so I never looked before.  "Seeps and springs provide water to headwaterstreams, ultimately providing the water flow to create larger river systems." (Chestnut Lick is a headwater stream to Bull Run.) Seeps and springs create vernal pools that are also essential during the cold winter months because their movement often keeps water from freezing. This serves as a refuge or drinking water source for wildlife. So at least the deer and wild life have something to drink while consuming my garden and the cat kibble we put out for the strays dumped in our area.

Clay Morris seemed pleased with the progress we were making and was willing to allow a covered structure for sitting at the edge of the woodland to possibly intrude slightly into the RPA. I did not want to have to delineate the RPA and just wanted the covered seating at the end of the woodland trail. Clay saw no problem with that plan since the covered bench structure we plan is small. Frankly, it was very nice to have someone appreciate the very expensive restoration work we’re doing.  

After walking Clay through the woods, I checked on the progress of the Wetland Studies and Solutions team. We discussed the plans for this year’s work. I wanted to extend the path to the creek. We are going to end it at the vernal pools. It should be passible in the summer. Typically Virginia vernal pools have three phases each year: it is inundated in the winter with the vernal pool holding onto the water from for a month or two, it dries slowly during the spring, and it dries completely during the late July and August. In the wettest years it can hold onto the water for most of the year. The vernal pools have an entire ecology that is just beginning to be studied.

After Clay left,  my landscaper came by to discuss additional work. He has less work in the winter and his guys provide cheap labor ($30-$40/hour). This labor is only cheap compared to Wetland Studies and Solutions, but it's important that people are paid fairly.  Next week the landscaper will have his team remove sections of the old farm fence and work on the woodland path. This year he will be laying landscaping fabric the lower section of the path from the big tree at the bottom of the hill (just shy of the vernal pools) and up the hill to the turn in the path. Then they will cover the fabric with wood chips. We'll see how this goes and if it works out.

The vernal pools in front of the creek