National Parks Conservation Association Announcement

NPCA: Proposed Data Centers in Northern Virginia Threaten National Parks, Drinking Water

Study shows negative impacts for Prince William County

Posted

WASHINGTON, May 4 – Today, the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), in partnership with CEA Engineers, released new analysis revealing the extensive negative impacts that proposals for two data centers could have on waterways and national parks in Prince William County’s Rural Crescent.

If approved, water quality would suffer at Manassas National Battlefield Park, Prince William Forest Park and the surrounding areas. This inappropriate development would negatively impact drinking water, wildlife, and outdoor recreation, as well as increasing flood risks for the entire community.

These two national parks have enormous historic, recreational, and cultural significance, drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors and contributing $54 million to the Prince William County economy each year.

New analysis from water quality experts at CEA Engineers reveals that if these two developments are built as planned, could result in more than 57,000 tons of sediment dumped into the Occoquan Reservoir – an important drinking water supply for more than 800,000 people who live and work in Northern Virginia. Another 1,350 tons would flow into Quantico Creek.

Processs

NPCA contracted with CEA Engineers to examine to scope of the potential negative impacts that these (rezoning) proposals could have on Quantico Creek, Bull Run, and the Occoquan Reservoir.

CEA Engineers is an environmental engineering firm that examines water quality impacts from development proposals. Kevin Draganchuk, P.E., BCEE is the President and Principal Engineer of CEA Engineers is a Board Certified Environmental Engineer (BCEE), and a water supply and wastewater specialist.

Technical Evaluation examined potential impacts that Potomac Technology Park and the Prince William Digital Gateway would have on water in Prince William Forest Park, Manassas National Battlefield Park and Prince William County.

NPCA entered into the analysis believing that they would find a negative impact to land, water and wildlife. 

"We recognized that these proposals would have potentially devastating impacts on Quantico Creek, Bull Run, the Occoquan Reservoir, and eventually the Chesapeake Bay." 

KEY POINTS

NPCA's Key Points from Mr. Draganchuk’s findings on Potomac Technology Park

SEDIMENT LOSSES: 1,350 tons 

"If the Potomac Technology Park were to be developed, sediment losses from the site could be up to 1,350 tons, approximately 95 large dump trucks of sediment dumped directly into Quantico Creek."

INCREASED FLOW: 7 million galons

"Following construction, an additional 7 million gallons of water per year can be expected to flow into Quantico Creek due to the increased impervious surfaces on the site."

WATER QUALITY & FLOODING more likely

"These impacts will lead to decreased water quality in Prince William Forest Park and increased risk of flooding in the park and downstream of the park. Increased sediment has the potential to impact the critically imperiled Brook Floater Mussel found in Quantico Creek."

NPCA's Key Points from Mr. Draganchuk’s findings on Manassas National Battlefield Park

SEDIMENT LOSES: 57,000 tons dumped into Occoquan watershed

"If the Prince William Digital Gateway were fully developed as currently proposed, sediment loses from the development can be expected to be up to 57,000 tons, the equivalent of approximately 4,000 large dump trucks of sediment being dumped into the Occoquan watershed".

RESULT OF SEDIMENT: Decrease in water quality at Bull Run and Occoquan Reservoir.

"The additional sediment would lead to decreased water quality in Bull Run and the Occoquan Reservoir, negative impacts to the recreational angling the lake offers, and decreased storage capacity of the Occoquan Reservoir."

IMPERVIOUS SURFACES: 280 million gallons of additional stormwater runoff, flash flooding

"Additional impervious surfaces created by this development would cause an additional 280 million gallons of additional stormwater runoff into the Occoquan watershed annually, thus increasing the risk of flash flooding downstream and decreasing groundwater and aquifer recharge".

RECOMMENDATION: Prince William County Supervisors consider the above impacts

"These impacts are just the tip of the iceberg. We urge decision makers to review the below report in its entirety for the full scope of impacts to water quality from these two proposals."

Direct from CEA Engineers' Analysis Summary

Potential Adverse Environmental Impacts to Surface Waters, National Parks, and the Public from the PWC Data Centers

"Development of the PWC Data Centers has the potential to result in numerous adverse impacts to surface waters resulting from stormwater generation, collection, and management during construction activities and ongoing operations of the PWC Data Centers upon construction completion."

"The potential adverse surface water impacts from the PWC Data Centers extend not only to surface waters receiving direct stormwater discharges and pollutant loads during construction activities and upon construction completion, but extend to downstream, sensitive surface waters, including the Chesapeake Bay."

Adversely impacted surface waters can result in failures for surface waters to achieve their best usages, harm to aquatic species, and the inability for the public to take full advantage of recreational activities, including visitors to Prince William Forest Park and MNBP."

More runoff means less groundwater. This directly affects water quality for drinking. It would also harm wetland nature preserves. 

The study went on to explain that impacts would affect aquatic life. Increased runoff leads to an increase of toxic chemicals in waterways. Chemicals in the waterways could lead to loss of aquatic species in downstream surface waters such as Largemouth Bass, Bluegill, Redear Sunfish, Black & White Crappie, Warmouth, Yellow Perch, and Flathead and Channel Catfish populationst that are supported by the Occoquan Reservoir.

Additionally, toxic chemical could cause an increase in the production of algae in waterways, blocking sunlight, thus affecting acquatic plantlife's ability to grow and provide a natural habitat for acquatic life such as crabs. 

Attached Letter from NPCA to decision-makers

To whom it may concern:

The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) is a nationwide nonprofit that works to protect and enhance America's National Park System for present and future generations. We have been following this mission for the past 103 years since our founding in 1919. NPCA has over 1.6 million members and supporters nationwide, over 43,500 members and supporters in the Commonwealth of Virginia, and over 2,100 members and supporters in Prince William County. For the past 14 months, NPCA has been concerned with two distinct proposed data center developments in Prince William County that would negatively impact two units of the National Park Service.

Prince William County is home to Manassas National Battlefield Park and Prince William Forest Park, both are distinct units of the National Park Service (NPS). Prince William Forest Park is a national park just 30 miles from Washington D.C. that hosted more than 325,000 visitors in 2021. And according to a 2020 economic impact report produced by the National Park Service, the park supports 258 local jobs and resulted in more than $21 million in visitor spending. The park features 37 miles of trails along with tent, cabin, and recreational vehicle camping. Park visitors fish, hike, picnic, bird, and cycle in the largest protected natural area in the D.C. metropolitan region. Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, Prince William Forest Park protects the headwaters of the Quantico Creek Watershed and is a sanctuary for numerous native plants and animals.

Manassas National Battlefield Park was established in 1940 to commemorate the history of two major Civil War battles – First Battle of Manassas, the first major land battle of the war, and Second Battle of Manassas. The Battlefield was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1966. Over 516,000 people visited Manassas Battlefield in 2021 to learn about the site’s Civil War history, and hike or horseback ride on the more than 40 miles of trails in the 5,000‐acre national park. According to a 2020 report by the National Park Service, Manassas Battlefield generates more than $33 million in visitor spending annually and supports 439 local jobs.

In March of 2021, NPCA and numerous other conservation partners spoke before the Prince William County Board of Supervisors with concerns regarding the Independent Hill Small Area Plan, which included land inside of the Congressionally Authorized Boundary of Prince William Forest Park as possibly slated for development into data centers. Despite our opposition, the Board voted to advance that proposal. Less than one year following that vote, a rezoning application was submitted for approximately 52 acres inside of the Congressionally Authorized Boundary of Prince William Forest Park.

This parcel lies entirely within the watershed of Quantico Creek, which flows directly into the Prince William Forest Park where it is enjoyed by park visitors. The parcel in question has immense conservation value and an effort should be made to permanently protect the land and include it in the boundary of Prince William Forest Park.

In July of 2021, the Prince William County Board of Supervisors approved a study of the Prince William Digital Gateway despite opposition for the National Park Service and other conservation advocates such as NPCA. At the time, the study area was approximately 800 acres, but since that vote, this area has ballooned to over 2,100 acres of land eyed for possible development into data centers. This proposal is directly adjacent to Manassas Battlefield National Park, including 10 acres within the Congressionally Authorized Boundary of the park, as well as more than 100 acres identified by the American Battlefield Protection Program as “core battlefield.”

The majority of this development lies within the Bull Run watershed, which is the northwest and western boundary of the park. Bull Run also flows directly into the Occoquan Reservoir, a key recreation resource for the Northern Virginia region as well as a drinking water source for over 800,000 residents in the City of Alexandria, Fairfax County, Fort Belvoir, and Prince William County.

With growing concerns about these proposal’s potential impact to the water quality in and around these parks, NPCA contracted with CEA Engineers to examine to scope of the potential negative impacts that these proposals could have on Quantico Creek, Bull Run, and the Occoquan Reservoir. CEA Engineers is an environmental engineering firm with significant experience examining water quality impacts from development proposals. Kevin Draganchuk, P.E., BCEE is the President and Principal Engineer of CEA

Engineers. Mr. Draganchuk has over a decade of experience as an environmental engineer, he is a Board Certified Environmental Engineer (BCEE), and he is a water supply and wastewater specialist. Mr. Draganchuk completed the below Technical Evaluation to provide a technical examination of the potential impacts the proposed Potomac Technology Park and the Prince William Digital Gateway would have on water in Prince William Forest Park, Manassas National Battlefield Park, and Prince William County.

While these proposals moved forward in Prince William County, NPCA and other conservation partners continued to express concern about the impacts these proposals would have on national parks, wildlife, and water quality. We recognized that these proposals would have potentially devastating impacts on Quantico Creek, Bull Run, the Occoquan Reservoir, and eventually the Chesapeake Bay. For these reasons, we asked Kevin Draganchuk to examine the Potomac Technology Park and Prince William Digital Gateway’s potential impacts on water quality in Prince William County.

What Mr. Draganchuk’s research shows is astounding.

If the Potomac Technology Park were to be developed, sediment losses from the site could be up to 1,350 tons, approximately 95 large dump trucks of sediment dumped directly into Quantico Creek.

Following construction, an additional 7 million gallons of water per year can be expected to flow into Quantico Creek due to the increased impervious surfaces on the site. These impacts will lead to decreased water quality in Prince William Forest Park and increased risk of flooding in the park and downstream of the park. Increased sediment has the potential to impact the critically imperiled Brook Floater Mussel found in Quantico Creek.

If the Prince William Digital Gateway were fully developed as currently proposed, sediment loses from the development can be expected to be up to 57,000 tons, the equivalent of approximately 4,000 large dump trucks of sediment being dumped into the Occoquan watershed. The additional sediment would lead to decreased water quality in Bull Run and the Occoquan Reservoir, negative impacts to the recreational angling the lake offers, and decreased storage capacity of the Occoquan Reservoir.

Additional impervious surfaces created by this development would cause an additional 280 million gallons of additional stormwater runoff into the Occoquan watershed annually, thus increasing the risk of flash flooding downstream and decreasing groundwater and aquifer recharge.

These impacts are just the tip of the iceberg. We urge decision makers to review the below report in its entirety for the full scope of impacts to water quality from these two proposals.

These concerns regarding water quality are shared by Prince William County’s Environmental Services Watershed Management Branch, Fairfax County, and Fairfax County Water Authority. These are not minor implications that can be brushed off or mitigated. These are extensive negative impacts on drinking water, wildlife, the Chesapeake Bay, and two units of the National Park Service.

The Prince William County Board of Supervisors must take the necessary steps to protect water quality from inappropriate development. NPCA calls on the Prince William County Board of Supervisors to heed the request of Fairfax County Water Authority and allow the Occoquan Basin Policy Board to convene and oversee a comprehensive study that these projects would have on the Occoquan Watershed. A full study of these impacts will allow the Prince William County Board to have the full picture of these proposals and make the best decisions for the county and the Northern Virginia region. Only after this comprehensive study is completed should the Prince William County Board of Supervisors consider any additional actions or steps on these data center proposals.

Sincerely,

Kyle W. Hart

Field Representative, Mid‐Atlantic Region

National Parks Conservation Association

777 6th St., N.W., #700

Washington, DC 20001

khart@npca.org

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