Brother, could you spare a glass of water?

waterglass - 1We are not at the point where we’re out of water.

The supply of ground water for our wells, however, is not infinite.

The question experts are raising is, “Do we have enough ground water in Loudoun to meet the current demand and the ‘new’ development discussed in the County, especially for Western Loudoun?”

Fauquier County is concerned about its ground water supply for its wells given the increased development that burdens its aquifers and compromises their ability to re-charge.

This summer, the USGS issued a “groundwater resource assessment” for Fauquier, outlining how best to sustain Faiquier County’s Water Supply.

Loudoun County has a similar profile, contemplating another 50,000 residential units, referenced in its recently issued ENVISION report.

Does Loudoun have sufficient water resources to support such aggressive residential development?

While most of any new residential units may be served by Loudoun Water and the towns, there could be as many as an additional 11,000 homes in the Rural Policy area.  That can only mean that thousands of new private wells will be drilled, adding to the existing 15,000 wells.

Fauquier is a rapidly growing suburban area near Washington, D.C., encompassing parts of three distinct geologic provinces that are underlain by fractured-rock aquifers that are currently relied upon to supply about 3.9 million gallons a day of groundwater for public supply and domestic use.

Loudoun is not that different. 

Suburban development increases water-supply demands, adding impervious surfaces that may reduce groundwater recharge, and possibly cause transfers of water between basins through water- distribution and sewer systems.

Loudoun, as is true of Fauquier, is an area with an expanding economy and a growing population, and, to meet future water needs, these aquifers are likely to be the source to supplement current withdrawals.

As urban and rural growth continues, water-resources management requires a long-term view toward assessment, characterization, and monitoring of the County’s aquifer systems.

The most obvious first step is to get a handle on what groundwater is available in Loudoun.

Some experts say that the County should mimic what Fauquier is contemplating, the creation of a county-wide water-budget model of past and current hydrologic conditions affecting aquifers.

Loudoun County is further ahead in establishing ground water monitoring wells when compared with Fauquier.  But Loudoun has grown lax.

The County started in the mid-2000’s and acquired a dozen wells by 2010.  There are now 14 active wells, though the County’s will to continue this monitoring project appears to be on the wane.  Experts say that this is a big mistake for the absence of vigilant monitoring is what put Fauquier at risk.

Many are concerned that staff funding to support monitoring will continue to decrease.  That’s a big mistake, according to the experts, and the funding to monitor is likely to decrease because, in part, there are few “mandated” regulations concerning groundwater wells and water supply.

Loudoun County does not and has not assessed a detailed “water budget”.  What some expert sources call an “ostrich mentality” originated in the early 2000s.

Through an EPA grant in 2000, Loudoun County was able to increase the three stream gauges to ten and the County contributes $70,000 annually to USGS to maintain these stream gauges.

Notwithstanding the Fauquier experience, Loudoun County staff have been told NOT to develop a “water availability” map.  We need such a map and that can’t be done with just 14 wells – not with any accuracy.

The Loudoun County Water Resources Technical Advisory Committee now only meets “as needed.”  Since 2000, the Board-appointed committee met monthly to address all water issues.  It was the “near drought” of 1999 that motivated the formation of the committee.

The Loudoun Watershed Management Stakeholder Committee (2007-2009) has stopped meeting.

The Loudoun County WIP Stakeholder Meeting have gone silent for past few years even as the Chesapeake Bay TMDL continues to 2025.

While ICPRB (Interstate Commission Potomac River Basin) and Loudoun Water may handle drought plans for public water supplies, there are no plans or contingencies for the 15,000 private wells.  When we have the next drought and the streams dry up, we can’t simply drill deeper into fractured bedrock.

As for watershed management planning, only one of a dozen plans are complete.  Fairfax completed all its plans years ago and is implementing its plans.

Loudoun has not disclosed the hundreds of drill well holes that found no water.  We must examine how our wells are doing county-wide – not one subdivision at a time.  Developers presently submit hydro-studies that only require that they pump and test wells for hours, and, when the new wells draw-down water off site from existing wells, little is done to evaluate the long-term impact of this phenomenon.

In conclusion, the experts say, at the very least, we should find out what water we have in the County before we create a demand for water that we don’t have.