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PE OK's Withdrawal From Mottley Lake

FARMVILLE – With the Appomattox River at its lowest July 31 level in 86 years, the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors voted Wednesday to grant the Town of Farmville temporary permission to release water from Mottley Lake, as an emergency water supply, into the river.

Supervisors wanted to clear the way for the Town by granting approval, even though Farmville had not asked for Prince Edward's nod. County approval is a necessary step, based on state law.

The Town can now, if it chooses, ask Virginia's Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) for permission for the withdrawal and would receive the state's answer within seven days.

DEQ approval is necessary because Mottley Lake is considered under Virginia law to be “waters of the state,” a top DEQ official told Supervisors. So is the Sandy River Reservoir and Wilck's Lake, even farm ponds and lakes (based on the volume of water withdrawn).

Permission is required, according to state law, and the unanimous Board of Supervisors vote allows the Town to withdraw water from Mottley Lake, as far as Prince Edward County is concerned, through December 31 of this year.

If DEQ approves and if the Town seeks the state's permission.

County approval, a necessary step, was formalized in a draft letter adopted by Supervisors during their special called meeting. The letter concludes by expressing a hope the Town will work with the County to develop the Sandy River Reservoir as a “drought-proof source of water for the entire community.”

The Town has not asked for the County's permission to withdraw water from Mottley Lake but Board of Supervisors chairman William G. “Buckie” Fore described the County's decision as “proactive action so the Town of Farmville doesn't run out of water.”

County Administrator Wade Bartlett said Town Manager Gerald Spates had told him Farmville would be “proceeding to move forward to siphon water out of Mottley Lake in the near future, if it was required…They're looking at that.”

Spates, in fact, told The Herald on Monday that the Town was “getting everything hooked up at Mottley Lake in case we need it.” (The Town released water from Mottley Lake for 24 hours in August of 2008 as a test of its set-up).

But the Town has not sought the County's permission, nor filed for a permit from DEQ to withdraw from Mottley Lake.

DEQ's Director of the Office of Water Supply, Scott Kudlas, was present and spoke at the Supervisors meeting, verifying the process and affirming Prince Edward County's action as necessary to Farmville's plan to supplement the flow of the Appomattox River.

The Town of Farmville owns Mottley Lake, located a few miles west of town upstream from its water treatment plant, and purchased it specifically for such use during a drought.

A drought like the one currently baking the earth. Less than one inch of rain fell in Farmville last month, according to measurements at WFLO, the National Weather Service's official Cooperative Observer, and the year's precipitation deficit stands at over 10 inches.

Last Thursday, DEQ declared a Drought Watch for the Appomattox River, including Farmville, Prince Edward, Buckingham, Cumberland, and other of the river's communities.

The flow of the Appomattox River, as measured at the USGS gauge in Farmville, showed the lowest flow on a July 31st in 86 years this week, lower even than on July 31 during the starkly deep drought of 2002.

“The flow recorded last night (July 31, 2012) at 10:45 p.m. was 4.7 cubic feet per second (cfs), which is the lowest flow for 2012. Over the last 86 years the previous minimum flow for July 31 had been 14 cfs. The minimum flow recorded yesterday was almost 67 percent lower than the previous all-time low,” Bartlett told Supervisors, in writing, and verbally on Wednesday.

The action by the Board of Supervisors came just two hours before Farmville's Town Council convened for its regular August meeting. Mottley Lake was not discussed during Town Council's meeting (see page one story). The Town issued Voluntary Water Use Restrictions on Monday.

Kudlas said that “at this point in time we currently do not have a permit application” from the Town of Farmville but he said the Town's consultants have approached DEQ about what kind of options the Town has under the permitting program “in order to use Mottley Lake as an emergency supply.”

One option, Kudlas said, is an emergency permit for a drought emergency. Certain conditions have to be met up front and when those conditions are met DEQ has seven days to turn around the permit.

“Your action today will ensure that process can go forward,” Kudlas said. “But once that happens, however, the applicant must, within 14 days, apply for a new…permit to deal with that additional storage over the long-term so the situation can be avoided, as best they can, in the future.”

Under that scenario, DEQ will have to evaluate Mottley Lake and “how far it could be drawn down…

“Under the emergency scenario we would still look at that but most of it would be cursory and we will hold until a later date that additional evaluation,” Kudlas said.

Fore confirmed with Kudlas that the Board of Supervisors' letter giving Farmville the County's permission to withdraw water from Mottley Lake is part of that DEQ application for a permit.

“Yes, sir, this would be a part of the application file,” Kudlas replied.

DEQ's permit would “be good for a year, or until the (drought) condition goes away,” Kudlas said, “or a new permit” is issued.

And Prince Edward County's formal approval for long-term withdrawal permission will be needed again, according to Kudlas.
“That's correct,” he said. “Based on the wording in the action you've taken today, I would say, yes, we would, once we got that formal application (from the Town) we would then ask that you consent again (for) long-term…”

DEQ's study will include an evaluation of how much water is actually available in Mottley Lake, and then how much of that water could be drawn down.

When Kudlas was told by Supervisor Jim Wilck about an engineer's evaluation that Mottley Lake contains 100 million gallons of water, Kudlas observed, “often when applicants tell us that there's a hundred million gallons of usable storage, what that means to them is that they pump it dry. That's not something we can approve of under state water control law. So, often what the expectation that the applicant has is different” than what the state can permit to happen.

Supervisor Don Gantt said he was “surprised” the Town of Farmville would have to get a permit to withdraw water from an impoundment it owns, and Supervisor Howard Campbell said it looks like the state is “picking on the Town of Farmville.”

Mottley Lake and Wilcks Lake, like the Sandy River Reservoir, require a DEQ permit, for withdrawal.

“It's waters of the state, so that's why they would need a permit,” Kudlas told Gantt, who seemed incredulous.

“It's waters of the state?” the supervisor asked.

“Correct,” Kudlas answered.

“That's why they need a permit from the state,” Gantt persisted in asking.

“To use water,” Kudlas affirmed.

“…It's been that way for some time…Since 1989,” he added, about the required permission to withdraw water, regardless of ownership. “Not everybody knows the rules.”

As Supervisor Howard Simpson pointed out, Prince Edward County is in the same position with the Sandy River Reservoir-the County needed to apply for, and received, a permit.

“The County owns Sandy River Reservoir but we can't withdraw water unless we get a permit,” Simpson noted.

“Right, you needed a permit,” Kudlas confirmed. “You have one.”

And now the Town of Farmville has Prince Edward County's permission to withdraw water from Mottley Lake and add it to the flow of the Appomattox River.

The section of the State Code cited was Section 15.2-5122 of the Code of Virginia which states, “No locality or authority shall construct, provide or operate outside its boundaries any water supply impoundment system without first obtaining the consent of the governing body of the locality in which such system is located.”

The letter from the Board Chairman Fore to Mayor Sydnor C. Newman, Jr. and Town Council members cites that law and tells of the permission granted by the Board of Supervisors to use the water of Mottley Lake “as a temporary emergency water supply for the Town of Farmville from August 1, 2012 until December 31, 2012.

“Such action is being taken to ensure an adequate water supply exists to allow the Town to meet water supply demands at a time of extremely low flow in the Appomattox River. The Board of Supervisors is acting now to allow adequate time for the Town to obtain all necessary permits prior to the opening of the Prince Edward Public Schools, Fuqua School, and Longwood University which will increase the water demands on the Appomattox River.”

The letter notes, however, that the Board's action “should in no way be construed as a permanent approval of the use of Mottley Lake as a water supply impoundment.”

And then the County addresses the Sandy River Water Reservoir in hopes of rekindling a conversation and partnership with the Town.

“As stated in the water supply plan, the Sandy River Reservoir has been identified as the source of water for the long-term needs of the community. Given the limitations on all other water resources in the area, the Board of Supervisors stands ready to work with the Town of Farmville to develop the Sandy River Reservoir as a drought-proof water resource for the entire community.”