“Where does this increase in demand come from?” That is the question a councilman asked last month when told by city staff that the water needs for Williamsburg are projected to increase by 50%.
Look at population trends. From 2000 to 2007, the city population grew a mere 1.7%, from 12,000 to 12,434. Most encouraging, the Virginia Employment Commission estimates our population will increase by just 13% over the next 21 years.
Based on these figures, Williamsburg is managing to do what other localities have not: remain a small town, unhurried, uncrowded, blessed with an international reputation.
Except that it looks like we’ve been on a bit of a growth spurt lately. With the development approvals put through over the last seven years, our population is actually set to increase by 30%+ in a very short time. After years of slow growth, we are now one of the fastest growing localities in the state.
The most recent growth addition is Riverside’s Quarterpath, approved by City Council last May. This project was originally projected to have 195 units but was approved for a whopping 1,374 units. Other recent approvals include 119 new units at the Village of Quarterpath, 25 units at the Southern Inn, 540 units at High Street. Add various other smaller developments, and in just a few short years we’ve approved enough development to move us from a sleepy town of 12,500 to a city staff projected population of 19,000. And all of this development needs water. Who’d have thought?
Turns out, there is a suggested solution, one that council is having a public hearing on this week. Newport News Waterworks, a for-profit entity, wants to build a controversial reservoir. If Williamsburg will declare its support for this reservoir in contract form, Newport News Waterworks will give us the water. In addition, we agree to pay it millions of dollars up front and to support the Waterworks infrastructure in the future.
Acquiring guarantees for new water supplies to sustain rapid development is contrary to our interests. How can we facilitate increasing development and still meet our goal to “Protect and enhance Williamsburg’s unique character,” a goal that 75% of the respondents in a recent Town Forum said was our single most important one.
The fiscal reality that we now face may be our helpmate in this goal. High Street has not been built out, Quarterpath Riverside is still in the drawing stage, the Digges building and other approved developments have not yet broken ground, an approved timeshare property is back on the market.
We can reverse this rapid growth trend and sustain our small-town independent character. Let’s not commit ourselves to a multimillion-dollar contract that will only bring about ever larger pressures for growth by doubling our water supplies. And let’s not, as a town, put ourselves on record as supporting the King William Reservoir.
We can retain our character. We can retain our quality of life. We can live within our natural means. This is our chance. Urge City Council to vote “No” on the contract with Newport News Waterworks.
Terence J. Wehle
Harriet Tubman Drive