Keeping Floyd's Water Clean
~ The following was published in The Floyd Press on February 18, 2010.
Jayn Avery first made the connection between clean water and good health while studying Environmental Science at Cornell University College of Agriculture in Ithaca, New York. "It changed my life and is what ultimately led me to Floyd and to choose a lifestyle that honors the fundamentals of good quality water and air," Avery said.
Avery is part of a citizen planning committee that has been meeting since December to explore Floyd County water issues. The group currently consists of seven Floyd residents and is headed by hydrogeologist John Gannon, who, through a grant funded by the Environmental Protection Agency, works for the Virginia Rural Water Association.
"The primary function of this committee is to write a Source Water Protection Plan and then start to implement it," Gannon, who received his master's degree at Virginia Tech, said. The plan will involve identifying areas susceptible to contamination, implementing strategies for water protection, and outlining a contingency plan for alternative drinking water should a problem occur. "If a well goes bad, what do we do? If there's a severe drought, who are the priority water users? If there's a water emergency, who gets notified and how? If there's an oil tanker spill, what do we do?" Gannon posed.
Floyd was chosen for the Source Water project because its residents have a reputation of supporting environmental initiatives, and because of the area's geology, Gannon explained. "Floyd's water is good," he commented, stating that the only treatment added to town water is little soda ash to balance the PH.
"The good news is that because the water is local, we have control over it." Even so, studies have shown that the water supply for the Blue Ridge is highly susceptible to contamination due to the area's rocky geology. Findings report that rain water in the Blue Ridge Mountains makes its way into the ground water system in a relatively short period of time and without much natural filtration.
Gannon has conducted well location road surveys, has drafted his initial background findings, and is working with Floyd's Public Service Authority supervisor Elwood Holden, who is supportive of the Source Water Protection Plan and has attended meetings. "As of 2009, the Floyd public water system is made up of five wells and two storage tanks. The public water system was first installed in 1974 and serves approximately 1,500 people," The Source Water Plan draft reports, noting that the old water tower at the town's booster pump station on Locust Street is not connected to the water system and does not hold water.
At a recent Source Water planning meeting, held at the County Administrative Offices, the planning committee discussed a priority strategy. Jeff Walker, a certified Soil Scientist who is also authorized to permit wells and septic systems, cited the location of wells in proximity to gas stations as a priority issue for the team to address, adding that the gas stations owners he's talked to are receptive to protective guidelines and "want to be correct in their procedures."
Avery talked about the creation of a brochure for widespread distribution and mailing that would inspire interest and citizen involvement. It should outline in a concise manner what individuals can do to protect their water source, where to find resources, and should give tips for good septic care, she said. The team is also interested in promoting awareness on the use, storage, and disposal of household, agricultural, industrial, and commercially-used chemicals as a water protection strategy. Hazardous waste and stormwater management will also be studied.
Geared towards citizen involvement, rather than looking to government to solve local water issues, the Source Water planning group agrees that education is the key. "A person can drill a deep well and draw water from a neighbor's shallow well. If a septic system is not contained it can pollute the water supply of others," Avery pointed out. "Floyd has a good balance of pasture and woods, and that's important for water retention. It's important not to overgraze pasture or over-cut woods and education will help get that message out."
Another point that the committee members agree on: It's a lot easier and more economical to prevent a problem than it is to clean one up. "Water seems to be an issue that everyone depends on, but knows little about. Source water protection is in everyone's interest, though it may be a remote priority until there is a problem," Walker said.
The completed Source Water Protection document will eventually be available to the public and a version of it will be online at the County website (www.floydcova.org). The planning committee hopes to host a spring library series of informative talks by local officers and speakers from Virginia Tech who specialize in Environmental Sciences. ~ Colleen Redman
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