Tyson Foods announced a change in its water usage procedures for chicken houses, tapping into an Eastern Shore aquifer that has a higher replenishment rate than the source that provides most of the Eastern Shore of Virginia’s drinking water.  The announcement follows a growing debate over the impact of chicken houses on the Eastern Shore’s drinking water supply, according to a Delmarva Now report.

“We are here to announce publicly that Tyson Foods, going forward, on the new houses, we will drill into the Columbia shallow aquifer for our cool cell pads,” said Kevin Taylor, Tyson Foods Temperanceville complex manager.  Cool cell pads are an evaporative cooling system that helps regulate temperatures in chicken houses in hot weather. Taylor made the announcement on Wednesday at a Accomack County Board of Supervisors meeting.

The announcement resulted from a February 6 meeting between Accomack and Tyson officials, said Robert Crockett, the Board of Supervisors chairman.  “It’s a great move on your part, and it’s totally voluntary — it’s a voluntary move, and we appreciate that,” Crockett said.  “We’re doing this because we are good neighbors,” Taylor said.

Using the shallow aquifer for some uses is a step for which some on the Eastern Shore, including environmental groups, have long advocated to help preserve the region’s supply of drinking water.

Taylor said the company will also look at the possibility of retrofitting recently built chicken houses. “This is all based on where its available because, talking with the drillers, that may not be available in every single situation,” he said.

Crockett said the water used for coolant is about 66 percent of the total used for growing operations, based on Department of Environmental Quality figures. That would leave around 34 percent of water used coming from the Yorktown aquifer.  The Columbia aquifer has a much higher replenishment rate than the Yorktown, according to scientists.

Taylor said despite the recent increase in chicken house construction, Tyson Foods is not expanding its growing operations in Accomack County. “The amount of chickens that is being processed today will be the amount of chickens being processed until the foreseeable future,” he said.  Taylor said new chicken houses being built in the county are replacements for older ones.  Still, he said Tyson is expanding its Temperanceville processing plant, adding new equipment, modern technology and more jobs.”