The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VDEQ) is taking steps to regulate how poultry farms on the state’s eastern shore are pumping groundwater for their operations, having recently issued orders to 57 farms.

The orders, which were approved by the State Water Control Board in September, will allow those 57 farms to keep pumping water from the shore’s primary drinking water reservoir and consume a total of about a half billion gallons annually, until final permits are approved, according to a report from the Bay Journal.

The orders will set maximum withdrawal limits for each of the poultry farms, but those criteria are only temporary, a VDEQ spokesperson said. Each farm in the area will need to obtain a final permit that will take into account the results of a monitoring program that will establish actual water consumption and determine if there is an adequate supply of water to meet the demands.

Officials say this move to regulate water use for poultry farms should not be considered to be adversarial to the poultry industry, but rather, something that is being done with in everybody’s best interest in Eastern Virginia in mind.

“I don’t think anyone wants to stop anything,” said John Coker, chairman of the eastern shore’s groundwater advisory committee. “This is not about poultry. This is about anyone who wants to withdraw water in the future.”

It is estimated that the eastern shore of Virginia gets about 44 inches of rain annually, but of that, only about a half inch goes into the Yorktown-Eastover aquifer. The remainder, scientists say, is absorbed by plants, evaporated or goes into the Chesapeake Bay or the Atlantic Ocean.

The VDEQ has further expressed concerns about the quality of the groundwater, with fears that it will either begin to dry up, or that saltwater will invade the groundwater.