Town Asks PE To Allow Withdrawal

Published 3:41 pm Tuesday, January 15, 2013

FARMVILLE – The year 2012 ended with a precipitation deficit of more than eight inches and the Town of Farmville is turning to Prince Edward County now for drought relief assistance that might be needed this year. And next.

Town Council approved the recommendation of Town Manager Gerald Spates to ask Prince Edward County to extend its permission, by two years, for the Town to withdraw water from Mottley Lake.

The County's permission is required by state law, which also stipulates the Department of Environmental Quality must grant its own subsequent approval because Mottley Lake, like all bodies of water in Virginia, is considered to be “waters of the state.”

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Town officials believe the law is unjust and are seeking legislation in the General Assembly to rewrite the provision requiring approval by the County and DEQ but they are simultaneously following the procedures currently in place.

Delegate James Edmunds II has introduced HB 2185, which would allow Farmville to release water from Mottley Lake into the Appomattox River without county or state permission, granting an exemption to state law for “an existing water system purchased by a town and located in the county in which the impoundment facility is totally or partially located, or for the orderly expansion of such water supply system.”

But the Town is hedging its legislative bets, too, by seeking the County's permission.

“If you remember last August when we were in the middle of the drought,” Spates told council during its January meeting last week, “Prince Edward County sent us a letter giving us permission to draw water from (Mottley Lake), which expired on December 31 of last year.

“And I would like to ask council that we request the County to extend this emergency water supply order for two years from today so we don't have to keep going back to them,” Spates said. “So I would like to ask for a two-year extension.”

The vote to do so was unanimous.

State Code section 15.2-5122 currently 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.”

Del. Edmunds' legislation would append the exemption quoted above to the current law.

Mottley Lake, purchased by the Town as a drought relief water supply, is in Prince Edward County, several miles west of the Town's corporate limits. Some water runs from the lake into the Appomattox River year-round but a special siphon system would be used in times of severe drought to provide Farmville with enough water, Town officials believe, to effectively counteract the drought effect. The Town has also upgraded the well system at its water treatment plant as an additional insurance policy against the impact of a severe drought.

The August 2012 letter cited by Spates from the Board Chairman Fore to Mayor Sydnor C. Newman, Jr. and Town Council members cites the State Code requirement and granted the Board of Supervisors' permission 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 letter explained. “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.”

Prince Edward took that drought relief action at a time when the Appomattox River had seen its lowest July 31 level in 86 years. In 86 years, the river had never seen such a low flow on any of those other July 31sts. The Board of Supervisors' action came days later.

Despite increased rainfall thereafter, November, in fact, was the driest month, with just .54 inches of rain, and even with slightly more than three inches of rain in December, Farmville fell over eight inches shy of its normal annual precipitation total, according to records kept by WFLO and T. Jordan Miles, III, the National Weather Cooperative Observer for the area.

“We still ended the year with a total rainfall deficit of 8.84 inches,” Miles reported in an email summary sent to The Herald.

Last month, DEQ decided to maintain the Drought Watch declaration for the Appomattox River basin and, for the first time, extended it through the region to include the Middle James River basin in central Virginia.

Days of rain this week are feeding a thirsty world.

But Farmville is preparing for another day's dire thirst.