By Carol Vaughn
The State Water Control Board in December approved groundwater withdrawal permits for 45 poultry operations in Accomack County.
Each application was evaluated “individually and collectively” by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality “to consider the potential effects of pumping over 50 years on the Eastern Shore aquifer system,” according to a press release from DEQ.
The permits all put specific limits on water withdrawal, as well as requiring well monitoring and conservation plans.
Special conditions requiring investigation of using the surface aquifer as an alternative to the Yorktown aquifer had been included for 26 farms. The State Water Control Board at its December meeting also added that condition to the remaining permits, according to the release.
A spokesman for Delmarva Poultry Industry commented on the board’s action.
“The chicken community recognizes the important role the permitting process plays in allowing DEQ to assess impacts of withdrawals and to ensure sustainability of groundwater resources while keeping them available for use,” said spokesman James Fisher.
“Despite the increased cost and regulatory burden on farmers the permits and special conditions will add, we’re glad to see the permits approved so these chicken growers can remain a valuable part of Delmarva’s $3.4 billion chicken economy,” Fisher said.
Peggy Sanner, Virginia assistant director and senior attorney for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, also commented on the board’s action, saying, “We applaud the DEQ for its work on these permits, and the board for taking an important additional step that will facilitate assessment of the capacity and quality of the Columbia aquifer to serve as a groundwater source.”
“Recognizing concerns that the contemplated large-scale water withdrawals from these facilities could put at risk the water supplies needed by others for domestic and other uses, the Board required all such permits (not just 26, as proposed by DEQ) include the requirement that the poultry farmer conduct an ‘alternative source investigation,’ providing site-specific data to DEQ,” Sanner said.
Consent special orders were issued in 2018 for 56 poultry operations in Accomack, but after metering results were evaluated, two were judged not to require a permit, Scott Kudlas, director of DEQ’s Office of Water Supply, said in a meeting at Nandua High School in April.
Three public hearings about the permits were held on the Eastern Shore in June.
Groundwater withdrawal permits are required for any facility that withdraws more than 300,000 gallons a month. Permits may include monthly and annual limits, requirements for metering and reporting, a mitigation plan for adverse impacts, a water conservation and management plan, and special conditions, Kudlas said in April.
The special condition added to the permits the board approved in December is in accordance with the Ground Water Management Act of 1992, which says the State Water Control Board may require anyone withdrawing groundwater for any purpose anywhere in Virginia to provide information about the withdrawal and the use of the withdrawal, Kudlas said in a Dec. 20 email to the Post.
The special condition requires the user to “provide pump test and water quality data from a test or production well screened in the surficial aquifer on the facility site as well as conclusions on the capability of the surficial aquifer to supply all or part of the water needs for the facility,” according to Kudlas.