Rural water supply in the Virginia coalfield counties
Due to quantity and quality problems with water sources and the relative poor condition of existing water systems, public water supply development is crucial in the Virginia coalfield counties. In order to address prevailing drinking water supply problems, this paper assessed existing water service delivery in the coalfields, identified appropriate technical and financial options to provide safe and sustainable water supplies for the region, and developed and illustrated a spreadsheet method for assessing capital costs and water rate impacts of funding options for water development projects. The research procedure incorporated literature and plan reviews, mail surveys, phone interviews, U.S. Census housing data mapping and analysis, and spreadsheet development application.
The exploratory research showed that the topographic and geologic conditions of the region limit access to quality surface and groundwater. The steep terrain inhibits water line extensions and speeds surface water runoff. Available groundwater found in coal seams and springs is subjected to potential contamination. The dominating economic activities of the region, high extraction mining and logging, have also affected surface and groundwater sources. Furthermore, some existing water systems experience unacceptable water loss due to inadequate line maintenance, old equipment, and lack of meters.
Technical solutions to these problems include water harvesting to supplement existing supplies with collected rainwater. Treatment technologies appropriate for small water systems, such as oxidation filtration and aeration, can help remove contaminants typical of water supply in the coalfields but at a considerable cost. Water source protection strategies, such as buffers and setback in zoning, also help minimize water contamination.
The choice of financing and funding for water development projects can impact existing water rates. Projects supported solely by rate-supported financing will likely yield increases in water rates beyond the means of most residences, especially when compared to those funded partially by grants. Thus, a balanced combination of financing and grant funding is essential to achieve acceptable water rate impact and project success.