Opponents of the long-running and controversial King William Reservoir project stepped away from the environmental argument on Thursday to make a case against the reservoir on the grounds of need and cost.
Countering Newport News Waterworks' claims that the reservoir is important to meet future water demand, members of the Alliance to Save the Mattaponi trumpeted 15 years of data showing stagnant or declining daily water usage on the Peninsula.
A projection made in a 1997 environmental impact statement said that Newport News Waterworks users would be pulling 61.2 million gallons per day from the Peninsula's water system by 2010. Two reports from the Alliance to Save the Mattaponi show that the region's water use has stayed stable, and slightly declined, over the past 15 years, and remains about 17.7 million gallons per day lower than the 2010 estimate.
"Newport News really missed the mark," said Glen Besa, the Virginia director of the Sierra Club who coordinated the release of the reports Thursday. The Sierra Club is a member of the Alliance.
"They're really significantly off the mark," Besa said. "That's a 40 percent error."
The water use numbers stayed flat despite the Newport News Waterworks service area growing from 340,000 people in 1990 to more than 400,000 now. New federal standards and a consumer preference for low-flow showers and toilets likely drove the water use decline. In addition, the largest industrial water users on the Peninsula have collectively reduced their water use since 1990 through conservation.
Besa said that if the reservoir is built — Newport News officials now say it will cost about $300 million — and the population growth that its need is based on doesn't happen, the current ratepayers would be saddled with the cost.
Newport News Waterworks began planning the King William Reservoir in 1988 after a group of local officials from Peninsula localities formed a study group that said the region needed to shore up its long-term water source.
The plan, which has dragged through two decades of legal battles and permit hearings, would flood 1,500 acres around Cohoke Creek in King William County and then keep the reservoir full by drawing water from the Mattaponi River.
Much of the opposition centers on the 403 acres of wetlands that would be destroyed. But King William residents, environmentalists and rate payers have also argued that the studies showing the need for the reservoir overstate future population growth and water use.
The two studies released Thursday by the Alliance to Save the Mattaponi were completed by Donald H. Phillips, a retired NASA Langley physicist whose personal study in 1997 accurately projected currently Peninsula water use, and Michael Siegel, a consultant with Public and Environmental Finance Associates in Washington.
Dave Morris, natural resources manager for Newport News Waterworks, acknowledged that the increase in conservation and more efficient toilets, showers and appliances have kept water use steady for the past 15 years.
But Morris said the waterworks is planning for 2040 and 2050, and planning to have a stable water source no matter what may happen to the current reservoirs or water demand, and that the project remains a necessity.
"They're making a claim that water demand has been pretty flat over the past decade or decade and a half. We're not looking at the last decade, we're looking at 2040 and 2050," said Morris, who added that responsible long-range planning requires building the reservoir.
"We really need to make sure we don't have a problem with water," he said. "We don't want a problem like transportation."
On Tuesday, Newport News City Council will likely vote on borrowing $20 million to continue buying land for the reservoir. Late last year, the King William County Board of Supervisors voted not to keep buying land for the project, as it had since 1990 in an agreement with the city. The supervisors said they were concerned with the uncertainty surrounding the reservoir.
Newport News intends on completing land acquisition soon, getting the necessary permits from the state in 2010 and beginning construction in 2012.