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East of I-95, Virginia Begins to Limit Permitted Groundwater Users

Department of Environmental Quality

Groundwater in the Coastal Plain, East of I-95, is under stress. During the last 18 months, Virginia water officials have been negotiating cuts to groundwater withdrawals by the state's biggest users. Now, they are looking at another large user.

From paper mills to cities, the Department of Environmental Quality has been quietly working with the Commonwealth's 14 largest permitted groundwater users. Scott Kudlas oversees the state's water supplies. He says they withdraw anywhere from 2 to 36 million gallons a day.

“About 87 to 90% of the water allocation for withdrawal from the Potomac Aquifer.”

The largest user, WestRock paper mill in West Point, pulls about 22 million gallons of water a day. Over the next ten years the company has agreed to cut back to about 17 million gallons a day.

So far 13 of the 14 largest users have agreed to gradual cutbacks that will nearly halve their collective total daily withdrawals.

“The allocated withdrawal was in the neighborhood of 146 mgd and now it's down in the neighborhood of 70.”

And there's another big user that's not permitted and is estimated to be taking nearly 40 million gallons a day. So, who is it?

“They're you and me. They are individual homeowners on individual private wells and people who live in a subdivision on a public system who have a private well that they've installed to irrigate their landscape, they are geothermal heat pumps.”

DEQ asked a wide range of stakeholders – including home builders, paper mills and environmentalists – for help in how the state might protect the aquifer for future growth and development.

This week, The Eastern Virginia Groundwater Management Advisory Committee made 12 recommendations. Those ranged from ensuring funding for groundwater monitoring, considering banking and trading credits for water usage to injecting treated wastewater into aquifers like the Hampton Roads Sanitation District’s SWIFT (Sustainable Water Initiative for Tomorrow) pilot project.

Finalized recommendations will go to the General Assembly in November. 

Here are Virginia's Largest Permitted Groundwater Users in the Coastal Plain:


  • International Paper (Franklin Mill)
  • James City Service Authority
  • Western Tidewater Water Authority (Suffolk and Isle of Wight)
  • City of Chesapeake
  • City of Portsmouth
  • Solenis, Inc. (Ashland)
  • Smithfield Packing Company, Inc.
  • Newport News Waterworks
  • Colonial Williamsburg
  • City of Franklin (pending appeal)
  • Town of Smithfield
  • Portsmouth Genco (Cogentrix)
  • City of Norfolk

You can find the full report here.


This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association