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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Studies say city's projections are off
Tidewater Review Staff Writer

KING WILLIAM – Two environmental groups released studies last week that contradict Newport News’ claims that the reservoir project is key to meeting the future water demands of the Peninsula.

The Alliance to Save the Mattaponi and the Sierra Club stated in the reports released on Thursday that the city’s water sales have not increased since 1993 and in fact, have actually decreased in recent years.

“The city’s own numbers are telling us the reservoir is not needed,” said Glen Besa, Virginia Director of the Sierra Club.

The reports show that based on Newport News’ own water rate study, the city was selling 45.7 million gallons per day (mgd) in 1990 and 43.5 mgd in 2007.

“The Federal Environmental Impact Statement completed in 1997 predicted water sales would be 61.2 million gallons per day by 2010. Given that we are only two years away from 2010 and that water use will not increase significantly during that period, it is clear Newport News has made a 17 million gallon mistake – one the citizens of Newport News will pay for if the reservoir is built,” Besa said.

The reports show that water use has remained stable despite an increase of customers from about 340,000 to about 400,000 since 1990.

“Water conservation has certainly played an important role in near-term water demands, despite clear and steady population growth on the Peninsula,” said Newport News Waterworks Project Manager Ron Harris. “The long-term future water need for the region [in] 2040-2050 has been and continues to be supported by the Virginia Department of Health.” 

If the $300 million project is constructed, the groups say residents and businesses will pay much higher prices for water, and taxpayers will bear the burden of paying for the operation of the project.

“Because financing for the reservoir is based upon increased water sales, the lack of growth in sales means that users’ rates will be far higher than Newport News currently estimates,” said Dr. Donald Phillips, PhD., a retired NASA Langley physicist who authored one of the reports.

The other report was completed by Michael Siegel, a consultant with Public and Environmental Finance Associates in Washington.

“Considering the city’s water needs, projections are off by more than 40 percent in just the 10 years since the federal study was complete, the city really needs to take a second look at the need for this project,” Phillips said.

“Obviously, we understand the temptation to compare long-term forecasting to short-term data.   Unfortunately, the near-term data being used in these reports cannot reflect the long-term agreements to provide water to our regional partners,” Harris said. 

Newport News City Council was expected to vote on borrowing $20 million to fund the purchase of land for the reservoir Tuesday night.

The city was forced to finance the process after the King William Board of Supervisors decided last fall to hold off on using revenue bonds to purchase the 3,000 acres needed for the project. At the time, the board believed the project still had too many uncertainties.

Under the new Interim Finance Agreement, the county will purchase the land using funds provided by the City of Newport News. The properties will remain in the county’s name and lease payments on the land will be suspended during this time.

King William County must reimburse Newport News without interest, paying fair market value, for each parcel no later than one year after the city receives its final permit from the State Water Control Board (SWCB) in 2012.

In the event the project is not fully permitted and is terminated, the agreement states that the county must then decide whether or not to keep the land or sell it.

If it decides to sell the land, Newport News must continue to pay rent until the land is sold up to three years. If the land is not sold in that time, Newport News must then purchase the land from King William.

The county was asked to fund the purchase of the property based on the Project Development Agreement signed on November 13, 1990. The previous Board of Supervisors that signed the contract 17 years ago obligated future boards to live up to the terms of the agreement.

The site for the reservoir pool is located near Cohoke Creek, between Routes 30, 626, and 633. A dam will run along West Rose Garden Road, parts of which will be rerouted.
Construction on the project is expected to begin after 2012.

“If water demand growth is slower than current forecasts, then fresh water stored in new reservoir will continue to provide drought relief to all the lower and middle Peninsula communities beyond 2050,” Harris said. “We don’t see this as a bad outcome.”  

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