How Would Selling Sandy River Reservoir Water Downstream Affect Our Claim To It?

Published 4:30 pm Thursday, December 2, 2010

Before Prince Edward County makes a decision on building a water plant at the Sandy River Reservoir, with an eye toward possibly selling some of the water to customers outside the county, consider the potential unintended long-term consequences.

How might if affect this community's long-term claim to the reservoir's water?

The Sandy River Reservoir was constructed to provide a reliable drought-proof source of water for the Farmville/Prince Edward Community. That is the only reason the reservoir exists, and it took an act of Congress to finally fill it with water for that purpose, recreation being a far less important side benefit.

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We are exceptionally lucky to have the Sandy River Reservoir. The value of reliable drinking water will become increasingly important in the years ahead, throughout the commonwealth. Just look at the expense Henrico County is willing to bear to have access to water stored from the James River in Cumberland County.

Water really is liquid gold and its currency will rise in value year after year until localities are going to do just about anything to acquire drinking water.

With that in mind, how would selling Sandy River Reservoir water to users in, for example Nottoway County, or anywhere else, cement this community's moral and legal claim to the reservoir's water?

That question, with all of its implications, needs to be considered before Prince Edward County signs away any portion of that water to any downstream community. The question is not aimed negatively at anyone in Nottoway, or anywhere else, but is squarely aimed at protecting the reservoir's water for Prince Edward and Farmville.

An imperative goal that cannot be overstated.

There is legitimate concern, or certainly should be, that a major downstream community is going to some day reach out to acquire however much of the Sandy River Reservoir it may need. Whether we want to sell the water or not. Urban legislators are more powerful and there are more of them. If state laws need adjusting, they'll do so.

Especially if this community is not using that water.

And even more so if we have put ourselves in the vulnerable position of having willingly sold any of it away.

Try making a water-tight argument that the Sandy River Reservoir's water is vital to this community's long-term future if you are voluntarily selling off that water.

Can't be done.

Even a trickle of water downstream may be the thin edge of a future flood of drinking water away from here.

Selling any of the reservoir's water to another community declares rather loudly that our community doesn't need the Sandy River Reservoir, or certainly doesn't need all of its water.

How much do we need in that case?

Are we willing to let a major downstream locality, with its high-powered lawyers and powerful legislators, seep through that self-inflicted crack in our claim to the reservoir and decide for us how much of its water we may need to secure our long-term future?

Will they let our grand-children and great-grand-children use 70 percent of the water? Fifty percent? Thirty percent?

We dare not take that perilous risk.

To put it in another context, you cannot morally or legally claim that your complete freedom is essential if you have willingly sold any of yourself into servitude.

Well, yes, you can make that claim. Anyone can claim anything. But it is hard to see any court supporting a similar claim regarding the reservoir's water if we have made a de facto admission to the contrary by selling water downstream.

And an incorrect admission. We do need to secure all of the reservoir's water for the long-term future of Prince Edward County and Farmville. All of its water is vital to our future.

Constructing a water treatment plant at the reservoir and selling any water downstream might prove equal to the slight lifting of Pandora's Box. Once open, try closing it.

Consider, too, that if the County built a water treatment plant and sold some portion of water to out-of-county customers those customers would constitute a significant portion of reservoir water use as the County worked to create in-county customers-and this would be seized upon by downstream interests who might try to wrest control of the reservoir away from us. 'See,' they'd say, 'Prince Edward County doesn't really need the water. Look how much they're selling away.'

And those same people would point to Farmville's own water system as proof the Sandy River Reservoir is not needed by Farmville, either.

The truth is, of course, the reservoir is needed by Farmville-Prince Edward to assure a long-term drought-proof water supply, without which all is imperiled.

Far better for Prince Edward County and the Town of Farmville to find some way to agree on a pipeline project from the reservoir to the town's water treatment plant and then build this community's future, and assure this community's future, in ways that benefit both Farmville and Prince Edward.

A joint pipeline venture between the Town and County, remember, with both localities sharing costs, is still something, Town Manager Gerald Spates told us, that Farmville would be willing to discuss with Prince Edward County.

“I think if we could work out a joint venture and the County somehow buy into our system and we'd serve the areas they want to serve,” the town manager said.

No other community is going to take care of us.

We must take care of ourselves.

We have the means to do so.

But do we have the will, or is it all going to trickle away in the end?