A proposal by James City County to build a desalinization plant near the Chickahominy River's confluence with the James is not sitting well with many who fear adverse consequences for the bass fishery and the ecosystem in general.
Critics suggest that the plant, which probably wouldn't be built for a decade at Waterfront Park, likely would force closing of a public launch and restrict access to Gordon's Creek. It also would result in dumping of thousands of gallons of brine daily into the river as potable drinking water is created through reverse osmosis.
In other words, a tidal river already retreating before saltwater intrusion would die a much quicker death.
"How is it we can spend millions, tens of millions on storm water 'To Save the Bay (Chesapeake Bay)' and yet you are willing to kill this river for the absolute reverse logic?" asked Joe Swanenburg, who has lived near the river for nearly 40 years.
His comments came in response to a public meeting presentation in which cost was given as one of the considerations for choosing the Chickahominy for the $128 million plant instead of the James and the York.
"We could catch largemouth bass all day long," Swanenburg said, in recalling how the river already has changed. "Now we catch flounder and put out crab pots. Lily pads covered and provided cover in all the shallows. Now saltwater marsh grass grows."
But if water supply is to remain adequate for the area's growing population, a desalinization plant seems the only option, as the state tightens restrictions on withdrawals from the aquifer.
Regional groundwater levels have declined by two to four feet on average every year for roughly 100 years, according to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. Although precipitation feeds groundwater, only about an inch of Virginia's 40 inches of annual rainfall actually enters the aquifer. Human consumption is outpacing regeneration, creating the need for another water supply source.