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Commissioners discuss safety of drinking water

During last month’s Planning Commission meeting some commissioners voiced opposition concerning implementing a Well-Head Protection Overlay District in Colonial Beach. To answer questions about the program, the commission requested Barry Matthews from the Virginia Department of Health, Office of Drinking Water, give a presentation during the March meeting.
The purpose of the Well-Head Protection Overlay District is to prevent contamination of public wells, public well fields and other groundwater resources that are used as source of public drinking water. The overlay district would protect areas within 1,000 feet of any wells within the town. Even if zoning regulations changed the areas within, the overlay would remain protected.

At the February meeting Commissioner David Coombes was the most vocal on the issue, saying he is concerned this would be regulatory over-reach.

Coombes argued, the wells are deep enough that any contamination would not be at a dangerous level.
Commissioner Kent Rodehaver agreed with Coombes.

“This overlay district should have a significant purpose,” he said at the February meeting. “If we just start putting in overlays for everything then we just have a pile of bureaucratic paperwork and it makes it harder to focus on what we need to focus on. I agree with Coombes that it is unnecessary.”

During the March meeting Brent Waters from Golder Associates assisted Matthews with discussing all the problems that can contribute to possible contamination of the town’s drinking water.

Golder Associates has been in business for 50 years and provides a host of environmental services around the globe.

Waters told the commission that Colonial Beach has four deep ground water wells and a lot of the water residents are drinking is from the western part of the coastal planes of the Potomac Aquifer.

“The water that you drink is very old, some dating as far back as [20,000] to 30,000 years,” Waters said
Waters explained that ground water filters through layers of sand, gravel and clay until it reaches these aquifers. However, old abandoned wells or improperly constructed wells can allow contamination.
Waters warned that these old wells are the main source for ground water contamination.

Chairwoman Maureen Holt  pointed out that before public water supplies were implemented in Colonial Beach, many residences had private wells. Holt is concerned that these wells are not properly capped and could be contaminating the town’s wells.

Waters explained that ground water protection includes properly capping old wells. The program is called “Cap It” and is currently funded in part by the Department of Environmental Quality.

Matthews told the commission he is trying to spearhead a pilot program statewide, comparable to the Cap It program. If implemented, the program would offer more funding to address old and abandoned wells. Colonial Beach could greatly benefit by getting on board with this program in the early stages.

Waters explained that old gas station wells, for example, could allow petroleum contaminants to get into the aquifer.

According to Town Manager Val Foulds the town does have a water protection plan.

Coombes asked why an overlay district was needed if the zoning already protects the wells. Waters pointed out that in R-1 districts underground storage tanks are allowed. The overlay district would prohibit these types of storage within a set distance of the wells regardless of what zoning was in place. Waters also said it would prohibit other types of storage such as chemicals stored in garages.

Coombes was also concerned that storage issues such as gasoline in the garage would be too restrictive and asked if residents would be fined under the overlay district.

Matthews told Coombes that part of the water protection act involves educating residents within the district on the proper handling of these types of chemicals. Matthews said education is less costly than trying to enforce regulations. He said he does not know of other localities enforcing penalties against residents, but what is implemented is dis-allowances for future development within the overlay district.

Matthews recommended not to jump into an ordinance, but rather to review the water protection plan in place, establish a committee to discuss and focus on source water protection and allow Golder Associates to conduct a study.

The study would identify the area’s public water supply wells, assess the potential risks around these wells, and identify ways to implement measures to manage these risks.


— Linda Farneth

 

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