Written by Lacie Wever, HRSD Community Education and Outreach Specialist
Published on August 24, 2022

Water is everywhere in Hampton Roads. In fact, there is so much water in Hampton Roads, we often have to cross a bridge or drive through a tunnel to travel from city to city. We are fortunate to live in an incredibly water rich community, but because water seems so abundant, we often take for granted how precious and scarce it really is.monitor merrimac bridge tunnel 

One example of this is our Potomac Aquifer. Deep underground, the Potomac Aquifer contains trillions of gallons of freshwater.

This aquifer, named the Potomac Aquifer, stretches from New Jersey to North Carolina, supplying hundreds of thousands of homes and industries with fresh water. Recently, it has been discovered that we are pulling out much more water from the Potomac Aquifer than is naturally being replaced by the water cycle. 

Here is an informative, engaging video explaining the details of the Potomac Aquifer in Hampton Roads. Give it a watch to bring more context to this blog post! Watch our Potomac Aquifer video here.

The Potomac Aquifer
The Potomac Aquifer is the largest and deepest aquifer in Eastern Virginia and is the primary groundwater supply. It is several thousand feet thick and contains hundreds of trillions of gallons of pressurized water. As the pressure has decreased because of our overuse of the aquifer, we continue to need deeper wells to access groundwater.

water quote

Where did all the water go?
If you are wondering where all the water has gone from the Potomac Aquifer, you’re not alone! Most people have no idea about the importance of the Potomac Aquifer to our environment. 

To understand how we are depleting the Potomac Aquifer, let’s first understand how water naturally enters the Potomac Aquifer. Think back to the water cycle. The water on Earth cycles repeatedly through evaporation, condensation, precipitation, transpiration, runoff, and collection. Water is collected in lakes, rivers, puddles, ice, glaciers, and underground. 

Underground water travels in the permeable ground layers such as sand and gravel. However, since the Potomac Aquifer contains clay and bedrock confining units, water moves incredibly slow through the ground.

In May 2018, HRSD opened the SWIFT Research Facility. SWIFT stands for the Sustainable Water Initiative for Tomorrow. SWIFT is adding wastewater that has been cleaned to drinking water quality standards into the Potomac Aquifer. This is done through an advanced water treatment process. SWIFT will replenish the Potomac Aquifer with up to 120 million gallons of water per day. 

Learn more about SWIFT here.

Amazing Aquifer Activity
To help teach this concept to students, we’ve created a lesson plan and activity called the Amazing Aquifer. In this lesson, students construct aquifer models to learn how water is stored underground and can be removed and used. Students will identify the main components of an aquifer and learn why aquifers needs to be protected. 

Download this free Amazing Aquifer lesson plan and activity for all ages!


students with potomac aquifer cup


What is the Potomac Aquifer? Learn more about HRSD's Sustainable Water Initiative For Tomorrow