Waste not the wastewater: Hampton Roads sanitation agency fast-tracks plan to turn wastewater into drinking water
Ted Henifin crouched next to a floor drain at the Hampton Roads Sanitation District’s York County treatment plant. Into his palm ran a soft stream of clear water – clean enough, probably, to drink. But the lab results aren’t back to confirm that. So, Henifin will hold off before he sips.
Waiting isn’t exactly Henifin’s style these days. He has dived into a project to prove that HRSD can turn what Hampton Roads flushes down its toilets and rinses down its sinks into water that’s drinkable. Once that’s accomplished, he wants to inject 120 million gallons a day into the main aquifer that underlies the region.
The idea has excited local environmentalists, business leaders and elected officials. They hope adding so much water underground would slow the sinking of land throughout coastal Virginia.
Geologists have attributed that subsidence to wells sucking water from the aquifer and estimate it accounts for more than half of the region’s relative sea level rise over the past century.
With HRSD cutting its discharges of treated, but still-polluted, water into local rivers, Hampton Roads localities also could leap into compliance with the federal Chesapeake Bay cleanup mandate.
The agency recently drilled at its Nansemond plant in northern Suffolk and hit the aquifer’s top at about 400 feet down. Cuttings taken as the drilling continued 1,000 feet deeper will be analyzed to design a demonstration scheduled to begin by early 2018.
The injection well will have screens to release the water at various levels where the ground is deemed most permeable, Henifin said. The plan is to pump 1 million gallons a day for a year, using the results to guide full-scale injection systems for Nansemond and the other plants – two in Norfolk, and the rest on the Peninsula.