Threatened Sensitive Joint Vetch as found in area of proposed KWR Intake on Mattaponi River, further endangered by King William Reservoir Project
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Group questions need for reservoir

Sierra Club says water use in city is down despite projections of shortages
Friday, Aug 08, 2008 - 12:08 AM 

An environmental group that pointed out errors which threatened the proposed King William County reservoir a decade ago is raising new questions about the need for the yet-to-be-built facility.

The Sierra Club released studies yesterday that show demand for water in the Newport News region is flat despite water shortages the city predicted when it was seeking federal and state support for the reservoir.

Newport News officials countered that demand has slowed temporarily because of conservation efforts but said demand will exceed current capacity without the reservoir water.

One of the reports released by the Sierra Club was from Washington consultant Michael Siegel, who wrote: "Simply put, the level of demand used to justify construction of the proposed reservoir has failed to materialize."

Siegel and Don Philips, a retired NASA physicist from York County who wrote the other study, each presented water-use data in 1997 that prompted the Army Corps of Engineers to do its own projection of the region's water needs.

As a result, the corps concluded the city's water-use estimates were twice what they should have been. That prompted the head of the corps' Norfolk office at the time to declare the reservoir unnecessary. He issued a preliminary decision in 1999 to deny the federal permit needed for the reservoir. The corps reversed that decision upon appeal by then-Gov. Jim Gilmore and issued the permit in 2005.

Yesterday, Glen Besa, the Virginia director of the Sierra Club, said, "We think Newport News City Council should be reviewing this project to see if it should go forward."

The studies show that Newport News-area water use has dropped from 45.7 million gallons a day in 1990 to 43.5 million gallons a day last year. Newport News predicted in its environmental impact study for the reservoir that water consumption would have reached 61.2 million gallons a day by 2007.

The difference between the real and projected consumption is 17.7 million gallons -- about the amount of water that Newport News said the reservoir would yield.

David Morris, the planning and programs manager for Newport News Waterworks, said demand is down because people and businesses are conserving water faster than expected in the region.

"Conservation has kicked in earlier than we thought, and we're glad it did, but the bottom line is, you can't look at now -- you've got to look years out," Morris said. "This has always been a project for the future -- not the present day."

He said the city still expects the region will face a 15.9 million-gallon-per-day water deficit by 2040 if the reservoir is not built.

The Sierra Club released its studies days before Newport News City Council meets to consider borrowing $20 million to begin buying land in King William for the reservoir, now estimated to cost $289 million.

"We think it's very premature to burden the citizens of Newport News with the extra debt," said Kelly Place, a Williamsburg waterman who has been critical of the reservoir plan.

The Sierra Club presented the city and the Virginia Department of Health with copies of the studies yesterday.

Newport News has been championing its reservoir plan since 1990, when it entered into a contract with King William County to host the project. In addition to Newport News, the city's waterworks furnishes water to Williamsburg and Hampton and some nearby counties.

The lake would flood 1,500 acres along Cohoke Mill Creek and be supplied by water pumped from the Mattaponi River. Opposition to the project is widespread. Environmentalists note that the 400 acres of wetlands inundated by the reservoir would be the single greatest wetlands impact on the East Coast since federal restrictions in 1972.

The Mattaponi Indian Tribe views the project as a threat to the annual shad spawning run that has been a part of tribal culture for thousands of years.

Newport News is studying shad migration and spawning in the river to determine when a state-mandated pumping hiatus to protect the fish should apply.

The city is expected to seek a final State Water Control Board permit needed for the project in 2012.
Contact Lawrence Latané III at (804) 333-3461 or

Reader Reaction:
Posted August 09, 2008 @ 08:43 PM by alberto
If trampling on thousnds of years of native american rights nor destroying 1500 plus acres of irreplaceable wetlands doesn't wake that small inner voice maybe paying for something that isn't needed will.To paraphrase "money doesn't whisper, it screams"
Posted August 09, 2008 @ 01:12 PM by Anonymous
Anonymous should check out the reports at You will fing that the original studies and projections showing the reservoir was not needed have been on the mark. Newport News and their allies put forth projections showing water use would increase to over 60 million gallons a day by now. What has happened is that not only have NN's increased water use projections failed, they have failed miserably. There has been an actual decrease in water use despite more people. Facts.
Posted August 08, 2008 @ 11:14 AM by science geek
Historically there were two millponds on Cohoke Creek. The reservoir would come under General Assembly Laws for mills and millponds. The law says the upper pond may be built. You can bet our rivers need the planned large pond. Better you should check out water withdrawals at West Point.
Posted August 08, 2008 @ 09:30 AM by Anonymous
The Sierra Club whines about how we need to stop development because we have a finite amount of water and development will ruin the water, but apparently in Newport News there's so much water they don't need a reservoir? This is a perfect example of why The Sierra Club has zero credibility. They realize a reservoir means water and water means development, and they can't have anyone else being able to live in homes like they do. They're nothing but no-growth zealots unworthy of attention.

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