What is the Lake Gaston Water Supply Project?
The Lake Gaston Water Supply Project is a facility that can transfer a maximum of 60 million gallons per day (mgd) of water from a series of hydro-electric and flood control impoundments on the Roanoke River to southeast Virginia. The project consists of an intake and pump station on the Pea Hill Creek tributary of Lake Gaston and 76 miles of 60-inch diameter pipe. With the exception of six river crossings, the pipeline is buried underground from the intake site on Lake Gaston to the discharge site in Isle of Wight.
Where is Lake Gaston located?
Lake Gaston is located approximately 125 miles west of Virginia Beach. Lake Gaston is the second reservoir in a series of three reservoirs which straddle the Virginia-North Carolina state line. Approximately three-fourths of all the water which flows through Lake Gaston originates in Virginia. About one-fourth comes from North Carolina.
Who owns and operates the three reservoirs which are involved in the Lake Gaston project?
The three reservoirs in the Roanoke River Basin involved in the Lake Gaston Project are listed below:
1. John H. Kerr Reservoir
2. Lake Gaston
3. Roanoke Rapids Reservoir
John H. Kerr Reservoir, the first and largest of the three reservoirs, was constructed in 1952 in response to massive flooding after a devastating hurricane in 1940. Kerr Reservoir is owned and operated by the federal government. It is a multi-purpose reservoir for providing flood control, power generation, water supply, flow augmentation, and recreation. Because of the flow regulation provided by Kerr Reservoir, downstream reservoirs were then feasible for hydro-electric power generation. Virginia Power constructed Roanoke Rapids Reservoir in 1955 and Lake Gaston Reservoir in 1963. Both reservoirs are owned and operated by Virginia Power.
Is the City of Chesapeake a partner with Virginia Beach in the Gaston Project?
Yes. The City of Chesapeake and the City of Virginia Beach agreed by contract in November 1987 to be partners in the Lake Gaston Project. The City of Chesapeake receives 1/6 of the project benefits and pays 1/6 of the project cost. Virginia Beach is responsible for implementation of the project and for operation and maintenance of the project.
Is the transfer of water from Lake Gaston to Virginia Beach considered an inter-basin transfer of water?
Are inter-basin transfers of water illegal under Virginia or North Carolina law?
No. There are inter-basin transfers in both Virginia and North Carolina. In fact, North Carolina has a permit system for inter-basin transfers. The bulk of Norfolk's water supply constitutes an inter-basin transfer of water from the Chowan and Nansemond River Basins. There are inter-basin transfers of water both in and out of the Roanoke River Basin made by Virginia and North Carolina jurisdictions.
What are Riparian Water Rights?
Riparian water rights are property rights which attach to land that has water flowing upon it. A riparian land owner has the right to make a reasonable use of the water on his or her land so long as he or she does not unreasonably diminish the quantity or quality of the water to the detriment of downstream riparian owners.
Do property owners around Kerr Reservoir or Lake Gaston have riparian water rights?
No, although some may think they do. Kerr Reservoir is owned by the federal government; Lake Gaston and Roanoke Rapids Reservoir are owned by Virginia Power. Virginia Beach has paid the federal government for the use of storage in Kerr Reservoir and an easement agreement with Virginia Power provides that Virginia Beach reimburses Virginia Power for energy lost as a result of the diversion of water from Lake Gaston.
Are inter-basin transfers prohibited by riparian law?
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No, although some may think so.
What types of activities were necessary to implement the Lake Gaston Project?
There were seven major areas involved in bringing about the full implementation of the project. These areas were:
1. Engineering and Design
2. Right-of-Way Acquisition
3. Local Consent
What is the status of engineering and design?
The engineering and design was completed in 1990. The engineering design provided the City a set of construction plans that enabled the City to bid the project.
What is the status of the City's program to acquire the necessary pipeline right-of-way?
The City has acquired the pump station site next to Lake Gaston and the right-of-way for the 76-mile pipeline.
What is local consent and what is the status?
The Lake Gaston pipeline passes through six jurisdictions. They are Brunswick County, Greensville County, Jarratt, Sussex County, Southampton County and Isle of Wight County. State law required Virginia Beach to obtain a number of governmental consents from these jurisdictions. Virginia Beach has obtained local consents from all six jurisdictions.
What is the status of the financing of the project?
The entire pipeline construction was paid by revenue from the water utility. Revenues produced from water connection fees and water rate increases were used to pay the cost of the project. No federal, state or local taxes of any kind were used to pay the cost of the Gaston pipeline.
What is the status of the permits?
Virginia Beach has every federal, state and local permit needed to construct and operate the project.
What is the status of the Corps of Engineers permit?
The City received a permit from the Corps of Engineers in 1984. The permit was modified in 1988.
What is the relationship between FERC and the Lake Gaston project?
Lake Gaston is owned by Virginia Power but operated pursuant to a license issued by the FERC. In order for Virginia Power to voluntarily convey an easement to Virginia Beach for the intake structure in Lake Gaston, FERC approval was needed.
What is the status of the FERC approval?
Virginia Beach requested FERC approval in February 1991. In July 1993, the FERC released a draft Environmental Assessment (EA) which indicated that the project would have no significant impact. In July 1995, the FERC released a final EIS which indicated that the project was needed, would have no significant impact, and that there were no practical alternatives with less environmental impacts.
What is the Coastal Zone Management Act and what is its relationship to the Lake Gaston project?
The Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) allows a coastal state to block federal permits and licenses if the activity is inconsistent with the state's coastal zone management plan. North Carolina lodged a CZMA objection to the FERC approval for the Gaston project.
Does the CZMA allow a state to block federal permits and licenses for activities which occur in other states?
This has been the subject of much debate inside and outside the federal government, but the issue has yet to be addressed by the courts. Prior to December 1993, the federal government did not recognize interstate CZMA objections and had dismissed North Carolina's CZMA objection for lack of jurisdiction. However, in December 1993, the federal government reversed itself and reinstated North Carolina's consistency objection.
What is the status of the CZMA?
Virginia Beach appealed North Carolina's consistency objection to the Department of Commerce as provided for in the CZMA. In May 1994, the Department of Commerce over-ruled the objection lodged by North Carolina. Commerce ruled that the need and benefit of the project out-weighted the impacts, that the project would not have significant impacts, and that there were no other practical alternatives with less environmental impacts.
What is the status of the litigation?
There were a number of major lawsuits filed challenging various aspects of the project. Virginia Beach prevailed in all of them. The lawsuits involved the following issues:
1. The validity of the Corps of Engineers environmental studies and permit for the project.
2. The City's right to charge a connection fee for the project.
3. The City's right to acquire property for the project outside its borders.
4. Brunswick County's refusal to grant local consent.
5. Whether or not the City needed to obtain local consent from Mecklenburg and Halifax Counties for the project.
6. The constitutionality of a Virginia statute allocating 60 million gallons per day of the Commonwealth's share of the waters of the Roanoke River to Virginia Beach.
7. The constitutionality of a North Carolina statute attempting to block the Lake Gaston project.
8. The validity of the U.S. Department of Commerce CZMA decision allowing the project to go forward.
9. A lawsuit in state court in which several legislators and property owners tried to block the project alleging that it is not allowed by law.
10. The validity of the FERC decision approving the project.
When did the project go into operation and how long did construction require?
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Full construction began in December 1995 after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued the necessary approval of the project. Normally, construction would have required 3.5 to 4 years. However, in the spring of 1992, the City began construction on two critical path components of the project (i.e., the six overhead river crossings and the underground portion of the pump station). The critical path construction was completed July 1994. All remaining construction was completed in December 1997. A dedication ceremony was held in November 1997. The project was put into formal service in January 1998.
Does the Lake Gaston Water Supply Project have a detrimental impact on lake levels at Lake Gaston?
No. There is no impact on lake levels in Lake Gaston. Water withdrawn from Lake Gaston is from water that flows through Lake Gaston into the Roanoke River, not from storage in Lake Gaston. Water levels in Lake Gaston are dictated by Virginia Power's Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license and controlled by Virginia Power. These license requirements did not change as a result of the project.
If the Lake Gaston Project does not have a detrimental impact on the lake level at Lake Gaston, then where does the water come from?
The water that flows through the Gaston pipeline comes from the water flowing through Lake Gaston. In other words, the Lake Gaston Project reduces average releases from the Lake Gaston Dam, but it does not reduce lake levels in Lake Gaston.
During certain dry times, when downstream reductions resulting from the City's project might have an impact in the lower Roanoke River, the City's withdrawal will come from augmented flows provided from upstream Kerr Reservoir. The City has purchased 10,200 acre feet of storage in Kerr Reservoir from the federal government to provide these augmented flows into Lake Gaston during dry periods.
Does this mean the Lake Gaston Project have an impact upon the lake level at Kerr Reservoir?
Yes. Use of storage in Kerr Reservoir will result in slightly lower lake levels in Kerr Reservoir. The draw down at Kerr Reservoir due to the Lake Gaston Project would be 2 to 4 inches when the storage is used. The water level in Kerr Reservoir typically fluctuates from 12 feet to 22 feet during the course of any one given year. This fluctuation is due to the flood control and downstream flow augmentation aspects of Kerr Reservoir.
Will the Lake Gaston Project impact river flows?
The project will have no effect on any river flows in Virginia. However, water withdrawn from Lake Gaston is water that does not flow through the Gaston and Roanoke Rapids Dams into the lower Roanoke River in North Carolina. Therefore, the project does reduce flows downstream of the Roanoke Rapids Dam in North Carolina. At maximum withdrawal, the project will reduce average flows below Roanoke Rapids Dam in North Carolina by about one percent. Reductions during a major drought will be approximately three to four percent. The project will have no effect on low flows or FERC mandated minimum releases.
What environmental, regulatory and judicial reviews have been conducted for the Lake Gaston Project?
1. December 1983: The Corps of Engineers published an Environmental Assessment (EA) for the Lake Gaston Project. The EA determined that the Lake Gaston project was needed, was the most environmentally acceptable alternative, and would have no significant impacts.
2. December 1984: The Corps of Engineers published a final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and Water Supply Study for Hampton Roads, Virginia. The EIS determined that there was a need for additional water in southeast Virginia, that the Lake Gaston project was the most environmentally acceptable alternative, and that the project would have no significant impact.
3. July 1987: Order and Memorandum Opinion from the Federal District Court in Raleigh, North Carolina. This ruling was in response to a lawsuit filed claiming that the December 1983 EA was flawed. The Court dismissed 38 of 40 complaints but remanded the matter back to the Corps of Engineers for more study with respect to two issues.
4. December 1988: The Corps of Engineers published a Supplemental Environmental Assessment (SEA). The SEA resolved the two issues remanded by the Federal Court.
5. February 1990: Order and Memorandum Opinion from the Federal District Court in Raleigh, North Carolina. This ruling was in response to a continuing lawsuit alleging that the 1983 EA and 1988 SEA were flawed. The Court dismissed all of the complaints and ruled that the Corps had done a careful and thorough environmental review.
6. July 1991: Order and Opinion from the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia. A unanimous Fourth Circuit panel of judges upheld the Federal District Court's ruling that the 1983 EA and 1988 SEA were valid and ruled that the Corps had conducted a careful and thorough environmental review. (The Supreme Court declined to certify an appeal).
7. May 1994: The Department of Commerce and National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration published a Coastal Zone Management Act Environmental Review for the Lake Gaston Project. The Department of Commerce determined that the Lake Gaston project was needed, that it would not have significant impacts on the environment and that there were no other practical alternatives with less environmental impacts.
8. June 1994: The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) published a Final Environmental Assessment (FEA). The FERC determined that the Lake Gaston project would not have significant impacts on the environment based upon the data it had available. However, the agency noted that data related to future water needs in the basin were uncertain and the project "might" have cumulative impacts. The agency also noted that many of the prior environmental reviews were now dated. To resolve the uncertainty and update the environmental data, the agency decided to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement.
9. July 1995: The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission published a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). The FERC determined that the Lake Gaston project was needed and would have no significant impacts on the environment. It also determined that there were no other alternatives with less environmental impacts.
10. September 1995: Order and Memorandum Opinion from the Federal District Court in Washington DC. This ruling was in response to a lawsuit alleging that the 1994 CZMA decision was flawed. The Court dismissed all of the complaints and ruled that the Commerce Department had properly concluded that the project was consistent with the Coastal Zone Management Act.
11. May 1997: Order and Opinion of the Federal Appellate Court for the District of Columbia Circuit. In response to the FERC ruling (#9, above), a lawsuit was filed claiming that the FERC ruling was flawed. The Court upheld the FERC decision to approve the project.
12. August 1997: Order of the Federal Appellate Court for the District of Columbia Circuit denying rehearing. In response to a request for rehearing, the Court voted 8-2 to deny rehearing.
Have the Virginia Departments of Health and Environmental Quality taken a position on the Lake Gaston Project?
Yes. Both the Virginia Department of Health and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality have participated in all of the regulatory and environmental reviews of the project. Both agencies have determined that the project is needed, is the best project from a health and environmental aspect and will not significantly impact the environment. The VDEQ issued a Water Quality Certificate pursuant to the Clean Water Act in January 1984 and the VDH issued an Operational permit in December 1997.
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WATER SUPPLY ALTERNATIVES
Has Virginia Beach and/or other governmental units studied alternatives to the Lake Gaston Project?
Yes. Every federal environmental review listed above has considered alternatives to the Lake Gaston project. The have all concluded that there are not any other practical or reasonably affordable alternatives to the Lake Gaston Project with less environmental impacts.
What studies has the State of Virginia conducted indicating that Lake Gaston is the best alternative?
In March 1988, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VDEQ) adopted water supply plans for each of the major river basins in Virginia. These water supply plans were prepared in response to a mandate by the General Assembly several years earlier. The James River Basin Plan recommended Lake Gaston as the best overall solution to the water supply problem in southeastern Virginia. The VDEQ has also participated in all of the federal regulatory and environmental reviews of the project and has consistently indicated that the Lake Gaston Project was the best alternative to the water shortage problem in southeast Virginia.
What studies has Virginia Beach done to determine that Lake Gaston is the best overall alternative?
From 1978 through 1982, the City studied over 24 various water supply alternatives. Eight alternatives were looked at in particular detail. The City evaluated the alternatives using six criteria: quantity, quality, cost, environmental impact, reliability, and institutional issues. The eight alternatives were: Lake Gaston, the construction of a new impoundment on the Assamoosick Swamp, the construction of a new impoundment on the Appomattox River, increased withdrawals from the lower cretaceous aquifer, withdrawal from the Chowan River, desalting, wastewater reuse, and shallow groundwater wells (including borrow pits).
Why can't Virginia Beach develop reservoirs and impoundments within or closer to its own jurisdictional boundaries.
Virginia Beach and all of southeast Virginia are part of the coastal plain where topography is flat and the potential for reservoir development is poor. Norfolk and Portsmouth long ago developed the few acceptable reservoir sites available and even those are quite small when compared to the large populations and military facilities that depend upon them. In the context of today's wetland protection policies, it is virtually impossible to build new reservoirs, particularly in the coastal plain.
I have a shallow well which I use for lawn watering purposes. Why doesn't the City drill wells within its own border to meet its water supply problem?
The City conducted extensive groundwater research during the late 1970's and early 1980's investigating the potential of the shallow aquifers within Virginia Beach. It concluded that any large-scale development of that aquifer would cause serious draw downs in the aquifer resulting in salt water intrusion, brackish water upconing, and the failure of thousands of private wells.
Why doesn't the City use water stored in borrow pits to solve its water supply problems?
The typical borrow pit in Virginia Beach has only about 100 million gallons of usable water. At current water demands, Virginia Beach would drain the pit in a matter of days. These pits take anywhere from one to two years to refill, depending upon weather conditions. In reality, borrow pits are little more than large shallow wells and large-scale use of water in borrow pits would have much the same effect on the shallow aquifers as would development of the shallow groundwater system.
What about wastewater reuse?
Most jurisdictions that reuse or recycle wastewater have significant industrial demands or large year-round irrigation requirements in which this recycled wastewater can be substituted for the municipal water supply. Neither Virginia Beach or southeast Virginia have large industrial or irrigation water demands. Eighty-two percent of Virginia Beach's water demand is residential and the bulk of the commercial and industrial demand are for service industries such as hotels, restaurants and shopping centers which must use potable water in any event.
Why doesn't Virginia Beach build the Assamoosick Swamp Reservoir or Lake Genito on the Appomattox River?
One of the factors that makes Lake Gaston so environmentally acceptable is that it is an existing hydro-electric project supported by a massive flood control project upstream. The Assamoosick Swamp Reservoir and Lake Genito would be single-purpose reservoirs built only for water supply. Both impoundments would flood many thousands of acres of wetlands. Much smaller reservoir projects involving only a few hundred acres of wetlands have not survived the regulatory process (as evidenced by James City County's efforts with the Ware Creek impoundment) and it is not reasonable to expect that these projects would either.
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Why doesn't the City simply desalt sea water or Chesapeake Bay water?
The cost of seawater desalting would be much more expensive than the Lake Gaston Project.
Many communities on the southwest coast of Florida desalt their water. Dare County, North Carolina and Suffolk, Virginia have constructed desalting plants. Why doesn't Virginia Beach do the same thing?
These communities are not desalting seawater, they are desalting brackish groundwater. There is a big difference. Brackish groundwater is groundwater that is generally less than ten times too salty to drink (500 to 5000 milligrams per liter [mg/l] of salt). Seawater is 100 to 200 times too salty to drink (35,000 mg/l of salt). Furthermore, brackish groundwater requires far less pre-treatment before it is desalted.
Why doesn't Virginia Beach desalt brackish groundwater?
Virginia Beach studied the feasibility of desalting brackish groundwater from deep wells screened in the cretaceous aquifer. However, the availability of brackish groundwater in Virginia Beach is almost as limited as the availability of fresh groundwater. The amount of brackish groundwater that the City could develop without causing adverse groundwater impacts in southeast Virginia and saltwater intrusion is very limited.
Are not the costs of desalting decreasing as new technologies are developing and shouldn't the City factor these potential improvements into its decision making process?
The City has considered the newest and most innovative technology that is commercially available. However, even the most energy efficient and lowest cost process which is commercially available today, is still more expensive than the Lake Gaston project.
Would not desalting processes be more environmentally acceptable than the Lake Gaston Project?
Not necessarily so. A brackish water desalination plant would require large withdrawals from an aquifer which is already stressed. It would also generate a large waste stream which must be disposed of in the Chesapeake Bay or the Atlantic Ocean. A seawater desalination plant would use one megawatt of power per million gallons per day of capacity. Therefore, a 60 million gallon per day desalination plant would require a 60 megawatt power supply. This is approximately 120 percent of the average electric generation of the John H. Kerr Reservoir. It is approximately one-fourth the average output of a medium size power plant. There are environmental impacts with the generation of that much energy. The energy must be generated by burning coal, fuel oil, natural gas, nuclear fuel, or the construction of additional hydroelectric facilities. Additionally, a seawater desalting plant would discharge one to two gallons of waste brine for each gallon of water produced. Waste brine discharge has recently become a controversial issue with respect to proposed brackish and seawater desalting plants.
Would the water quality from a desalting plant be better than that of Lake Gaston?
In some respects, water from a desalting plant would have better quality than conventionally treated surface water and, in other respects, it would not. Water from a brackish groundwater desalting plant would generally be of very good quality; however, it would be more corrosive than conventional surface water and higher in sodium. Water from a seawater desalting plant, if it used the reverse osmosis process, would be very high in sodium and more corrosive than current supplies. Sodium levels would be so high that the product water might have to be desalted a second time in a brackish water desalting process raising the costs even further. If an evaporative process such as multi-stage flash distillation were used, then the water would be very corrosive and in the summer and early fall months would be very warm which would make it aesthetically unpleasing.
Would desalination plants be more reliable than the Lake Gaston Project?
No, they would not be. Conventional water treatment plants are reliable more than 99 percent of the time. Even the best operated sea water desalting plants are reliable only about 85 to 90 percent of the time and quite often technical problems can lower that figure.
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