Suffolk

Water treatment center targets sea level rise, improving Chesapeake Bay

SUFFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – A new state-of-the art research center and water treatment plant is the latest effort in the region to combat sea level rise and improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay.  

The Hampton Roads Sanitation District (HRSD) unveiled the $25 million SWIFT building on May 16. SWIFT is an acronym for Sustainable Water Initiative for Tomorrow.

The facility will treat one million gallons of wastewater each day using an advanced method and pump the water back into the Potomac Aquifer instead of the James River.

Ted Henifin, HRSD general manager, says the technology is helping to solve “a water crisis.”

“We've depleted the groundwater sources that if we don't do something about it, it could not support future generations of Virginians,” he said.

Henifin says land across the region is sinking ever-so-slightly – and it’s possible the land could rebound by injecting more water 1,500 feet below ground into the aquifer.  

"We're not asking anyone to drink it directly,” he said, although visitors to the center can drink it for themselves safely. “It's going to go into the ground and it could be hundreds of years before it reaches the closest drinking water well to where we're at."

Henifin says the process will not stop sea level rise, but it could buy the region more time to come up with a plan to address the problem.

By 2030, HRSD hopes to expand from putting one million to 100 million gallons of water into the aquifer each day.

HRSD currently treats 150 million gallons of water each day at their 18 facilities. All the water eventually ends up in the Chesapeake Bay.

Henifin says a goal of the project is improving the health of the bay by reducing the high levels of nitrogen and phosphorous by 90 percent.

HRSD says field trips and public tours are planned in the coming months.

"No doubt when you come visit and see how we are doing this it's hard not to be confident in the end product."


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