Report: Drinking Water, Wetlands, Rivers, Trout & Chesapeake Bay Threatened by Proposed Pipelines in Virginia

With Trump sign-off, NRDC urges Governor Northam to take fresh look he called for to protect clean water

RICHMOND – Two proposed major gas pipelines could contaminate the drinking water supplies of thousands of Virginians from one end of the Old Dominion to the other, a new report released today shows, twin threats that were insufficiently explored by the Trump administration before it approved the projects.

The warning about the Mountain Valley and the Atlantic Coast pipelines came in a report prepared by the respected West Virginia environmental consulting firm Downstream Strategies for the Natural Resources Defense Council. It also finds that the pipelines would cross Virginia waterways more than 1,000 times, posing a serious threat to the Chesapeake Bay watershed, wild trout streams, and important wetlands including the Great Dismal Swamp. 

That prompted NRDC to call on Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam to launch a new and thorough review of the pipelines’ many threats to water, which NRDC believes could ultimately lead to their rejection.

“With the Trump administration’s signoff, Gov. Northam now has a golden opportunity to step up, conduct the review he called for last year and protect Virginians from pollution and harm,” said Amy Mall, senior policy analyst in NRDC’s Nature Program. "We urge the governor to immediately conduct a site-specific analysis of the dangers these pipelines present to Virginians.

“These waterways are a true lifeblood. They supply drinking water, sustain trout streams, drive the economy and replenish the Chesapeake Bay. The governor should ensure they stay clean and safe today, and tomorrow, for the benefit of all Virginians.” 

The report, “Threats to Water Quality from Mountain Valley Pipeline and Atlantic Coast Pipeline Water Crossings in Virginia,” is the first to analyze the risks to Virginia’s rivers and streams from construction and operation of the two pipelines.

In February 2017, when Northam was lieutenant governor, he told the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality he was concerned about the projects and called for site-specific analysis of the pipelines instead of a blanket permit. The proposed pipelines, he wrote, must undergo a thorough evaluation of their impacts on natural resources.

These projects, he added, “should be held to the highest environmental standards.”  

The Atlantic Coast Pipeline would run between Harrison County, West Virginia and Robeson County, North Carolina, a length of approximately 600 miles. The Mountain Valley Pipeline would run between Wetzel County, West Virginia and Pittsylvania County, Virginia—approximately 300 miles. 

The Trump administration has finished its Clean Water Act review of the projects, paving the way for Northam to act now.

That also could protect Virginians’ pocketbooks. Virginia consumers would see their electricity bills rise to pay for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, to the tune of $1.6-$2.3 billion, according to an independent analysis issued last year. Other analyses found that there’s no demonstrated market need for either pipeline, and that they won’t create as many jobs as backers claim. 

More highlights from water crossings report include:  

  • Erosion and sedimentation: Sedimentation of streams would increase because of pipeline construction, even well after construction is complete. While some amount of sedimentation occurs naturally, excess sediment in streams is considered a pollutant, which can impact fish and other aquatic life. In Virginia, impacts would occur in streams that are both pristine and those already impaired by sedimentation.  
  • Drinking water: Six drinking water assessment areas would be crossed by the two pipelines in Virginia, including over 75 water crossings, some less than one mile from water supply reservoirs and as close as 1.1 miles from water supply intakes. Eleven crossings would occur less than a mile from two reservoirs supplying drinking water for Norfolk.   
  • Environmental justice: The proposed paths of the pipelines cross through or near several disadvantaged communities and could threaten water quality, including drinking water, in these communities. They include Emporia and Franklin.  
  • Trout waters: Numerous wild, native, and stocked trout streams would be directly impacted by the pipelines, including 73 water crossings deemed highest-concern by Trout Unlimited (TU). These include the Jackson River, Mill Creek and the Calfpasture River, home to brook trout. 
  • Wetlands: More than 315 acres of Virginia wetlands would be impacted by construction of the two pipelines, including the permanent conversion of over 75 acres of forested wetlands to less desirable wetlands. This includes impacting 75 acres hydrologically connected to the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge.
  •  The Chesapeake Bay: The Atlantic Coast pipeline’s proposed 864 water crossings in the Chesapeake Bay watershed would make attaining mandated sediment load reductions in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement more difficult. 


Experiences in other states show reason for concern with the Virginia projects. Major construction problems for the Rover pipeline seriously contaminated clean water in West Virginia, Michigan and Ohio. Ohio fined the builder $2.3 million for air and water violations, but the builder refused to pay, and efforts by the state to force a reroute of the project also have not been successful. More here:

In Pennsylvania, the Mariner East 2 pipeline polluted drinking water for 15 Pennsylvania families. Incidentally, Mountain Valley project owners have hired that same construction company on the Rover and Mariner projects to build its Virginia section. 

A blog by Amy Mall at NRDC on the water threats issue is here:

The report, “Threats to Water Quality from Mountain Valley Pipeline and Atlantic Coast Pipeline Water Crossings in Virginia,” is here:

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The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.​ 






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