Virginia Uses Treated Wastewater to Shore Up a Drinking Water Aquifer
In July, Virginia banned new water desalination plants, putting a halt to a $1bn a year industry. But its aquifers will need plenty of water, and, according to one senior scientist at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, the state has failed to protect them.
The water is pumped from the mountains of southwest Virginia using power and chemicals to dissolve salts, leaving behind a briny residue.
The Virginia Institute of Marine Science researchers say the water isn’t clean enough, as the aquifer is more saline than normal, and the researchers point to high levels of nitrate, a fertilizer that causes algae growth, to suggest the water is unfit for human consumption – as well as for drinking.
“What we’ve found is that we’ve got a very large salt water intrusion at the surface of the aquifer, where they pump the water,” Steve Knepp, senior scientist at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, told the Washington Post. “We believe this is a very large point source of nitrate, which allows the algae to grow and deplete the water.”
The water is treated with a process that removes carbon dioxide. The researchers estimate the water contains 20 times as much nitrate as surface water in Chesapeake Bay – a major water supply for the state.
“It’s like throwing a grenade at water, and if you don’t have a long enough fuse, it will blow up in your face,” Knepp said about the research.
“We were shocked as we saw the magnitude of what they’re exposed to,” John Buehler, executive director of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, said in the same article. “If they are exposed to this water and that water is high in nitrates, that means more nitrates will be introduced, and these nitrates are going to move through the aquifer and eventually, if we don’t have an intervention, this water could migrate into the watershed that supplies us with drinking water.”
Buehler said he was not aware