Federal funds earmarked for Surry school well

Published 4:58 pm Tuesday, July 27, 2021

A $43.4 billion federal House Appropriations Committee bill includes $3.2 million for replacing the well system serving Surry County Public Schools.

Congressman A. Donald McEachin, whose Fourth Congressional District includes Surry County, announced the funding in late June following a meeting of the 2022 House Appropriations Subcommittee of the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies.

Since then, the bill has passed the full House Appropriations Committee on a 32-24 vote.

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According to Joseph Grist, water withdrawal permitting and compliance manager for Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality, the groundwater withdrawal permit issued to Surry County Public Schools on Dec. 1, 2017, required the abandonment of either the well serving Surry County High School or the one serving Surry Elementary School by Dec. 1, 2023. The issue involves both wells being gravel-packed.

“Wells constructed with gravel packs that extend upward through or into overlying aquifers are required to be abandoned and replaced because they create potential pathways whereby groundwater may travel between aquifers,” Grist said.

Should this occur, it could impact groundwater quality and water pressure in systems that utilize the connected aquifers, he explained. The six-year timeframe to complete the required abandonment was to allow Surry County Public Schools time to plan and budget for the expense.

“To ensure reliable access to clean water, we must modernize our infrastructure,” McEachin said. “These are long overdue health and safety needs for my constituents that are finally receiving these crucial funds. I will continue to advocate for our district to ensure we receive the necessary resources to make our community stronger.”

“As a rural community, we must ensure that our infrastructure can meet the needs of our citizens and students,” said Surry County Administrator Melissa Rollins. “Small localities are faced with significant costs to replace aging infrastructure. We are glad to know that congressional resources could possibly support this project in Surry County. This project will ultimately improve the economic vitality of our community.”

“Surry County is fortunate to have been able to submit our school complex water system upgrade project to Congress for consideration,” said David A. Harrison, deputy county administrator. “We are elated that the project is being considered and realize that it will have a very positive impact on our community overall. Small rural localities are often overlooked for large funding opportunities and we are very grateful to Congressman McEachin, his team, and the Appropriations Committee for their support of our application.”

Currently, the school system is planning to abandon the high school well and defer the replacement of the elementary school well until the next time the school division needs to renew its groundwater permit, Grist said, but has the option to flip things around and replace the elementary school well first should that well have an issue during the current permit term.

The appropriations bill is expected to go before the full U.S. House of Representatives this week.