Aquifer Susceptibility: A Glimpse into Virginia (...and a little New Zealand)

Aquifer susceptibility, usage and its impact on society is a topic researchers and scientists have studied for decades.

Water is absolutely necessary for all cells, organs, and tissues in order to help regulate temperature and maintain other bodily functions necessary for life. Furthermore, a depleted water source and aquifer can lead to sinkholes which destroy societal infrastructure in a myriad of ways including but not limited to housing, transportation, habitat homeostasis for wildlife, agriculture and aquaculture That's why locating and understanding aquifers is extremely important.

For example, in the beautiful state of Virginia between the years of 1998 and 2000 the Virginia Aquifer Susceptibility Study sampled water from 171 wells and springs across the Commonwealth of Virginia. Most of the sites were from wells, public water supplies, springs in fractured-rock terrains (the Appalachian Plateaus, Valley and Ridge, Blue Ridge, and Piedmont regional aquifer systems) and one spring sampled in the Coast Plain regional aquifer. The presence of environmental tracers, including chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), exceeded the susceptibility threshold in 22 percent of the wells which indicated the presence of young water which signifies the aquifer is susceptible to near-surface contamination. Concentrations of CFCs into ground-water systems indicated non- atmospheric sources (such as sewage effluent). Why should you care about aquifer contamination? Here's an example from New Zealand: in Havelock North: a campylobacter outbreak affected an estimated 4,000 people and sent dozens to the ER. A thick, healthy aquifer means contaminants are less likely to infiltrate macropores.

Fast forward to 2022 and the topic of aquifers is just as important, especially for the Southeastern portion of Virginia in Hampton Roads where the usage of water presents itself as an issue. Although this area isn't facing a mega drought like some portions of the US, (As of October 18, 2022, 49.71% of the U.S. and 59.35% of the Lower 48 states are in drought. of the U.S. and 59.35% of the lower 48 states are in drought, 373 Million acres of crops in U.S. are experiencing drought conditions), water problems including drawing groundwater faster than it can be replenished have caused sinkholes in some places.

Every day, the region's sanitation system takes a million gallons of treated wastewater and pumps it back into the Potomac Aquifer, a major source of drinking water for the region. Plans to increase the rate to 100 million gallons in the coming years rely on reusing drinking water augmented from wastewater treated from plants like SWIFT (Sustainable Water Initiative for Tomorrow) in Suffolk VA that was launched in 2018. The state had no regulatory framework in place to oversee unground injection of water so the sanitation district had to push for legislation to create oversight.

The Ghent Neighborhood of Norfolk, VA where sea levels have elevated ~20 inches in the past hundred years.

Each day approximately 155 million gallons of groundwater are drawn which encourages the ground to slowly sink and collapse; without enough water to help support the ground, underlying sediments fall in and the surface collapses. Even if people stopped drawing groundwater today, it could still take thousands of years for the aquifer to refill.

The point of sharing these vignettes in time about aquifers, a topic most would probably fall asleep to if they had the choice to learn about anything despite its grave importance on our future, is to shed light on the impact human activity has upon natural processes and to retain mindfulness about the implications for water access and quality in the future.

Will it take hundreds of years before people migrate inland and away from delicate coastal areas in order to protect what's left of natural habitats thousands of species rely on for survival? Will a new way of obtaining water that is less destructive to the environment in vulnerable areas such as coastal zones or arid climates be invented & implemented? Perhaps a return to Roman Aqueducts? These are all broad, philosophical questions meant to inspire not depress, with the hopes that some day we can find, as a collective whole, a way to sustain our ever-demanding need for healthy aquifers and water sources without not-so-slowly depleting the environment in the process. To rely on rainfall to recharge an aquifer can take an entire millennia. Surface waters are connected to groundwater through the shallow geology where that geology is permeable. Imagine what an entire paved city does to the Earth, it prevents natural cycles from taking place and in the long term wreaks havoc on the balance of natural perfect design.

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