And Now There Is Crewe, But Still There Is Not Us

Published 2:44 pm Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Appomattox River Water Authority has company.

The Town of Crewe is also interested in the possibility of obtaining water from the Sandy River Reservoir.

That didn't take long.

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The second knock on the door came quickly after the first rapping of ARWA's knuckles on our door became public in this newspaper.

Everybody seems deeply interested but our community.

The Sandy River Reservoir is what the Department of Environmental Quality calls “waters of the state.” Just like the Town of Farmville-owned Mottley Lake. DEQ doesn't own the water. The state of Virginia doesn't own the water. But the state's DEQ controls what happens to the water, which is a power the owners of the water do not possess.

For the sake of argument, let's say Prince Edward County's Board of Supervisors votes to sell ARWA water to be used in time of drought, and allows the Town of Crewe to depend on the Sandy River Reservoir for its water needs. The County would have to stipulate terms for use of any water in the reservoir by a third party and DEQ would need to confirm that its use is consistent with the terms of the Virginia Water Protection Permit issued to the County for the reservoir. The County could request the permit be modified by DEQ. If DEQ were to receive such a request from Prince Edward County it would be evaluated under DEQ's normal permit review process.

Neither ARWA nor Crewe have declared they definitely want to use the Sandy River Reservoir, but they are keenly interested and ARWA has already decided an upstream reservoir is necessary for the future water needs of Chesterfield, Petersburg, Hopewell, Colonial Heights, and Dinwiddie.

Apparently ARWA has been making what a County official described as “annual pilgrimages” to Prince Edward, speaking to County officials about the Sandy River Reservoir. I wish those visits had been made public at the time they occurred to inform the community and provide context and perspective to arguments in the community on whether to build our own pipeline from the reservoir. Those ARWA visits weren't made to scope out the Heart of Virginia Festival.

Some comfort may be taken in the fact that neither ARWA or Crewe could come in this year and demand, over the Board of Supervisors' collective prone bodies, release of water to them from the Sandy River Reservoir.

The Town of Farmville, for example, cannot even use the water it owns in Mottley Lake, located in Prince Edward County, to supplement the Appomattox River's flow during a drought-unless both the County and DEQ approve. And Farmville owns the lake and Farmville is located in Prince Edward County. So ARWA, which doesn't own the Sandy River Reservoir and is not located in Prince Edward County, cannot force the County to sell them Sandy River Reservoir water.

This year.

As state law, regulations and permit process are currently written.

So take comfort now, if you wish, but don't trust that comfort to last forever, or even, perhaps, a few years.

Because the Town of Farmville and Mottley Lake also clearly demonstrate that legislation can be drafted and introduced in the General Assembly to change existing state water law as it governs impoundments and release of water from those reservoirs. At the behest of the Town of Farmville, Delegate James Edmunds took a bill to the General Assembly last month to change just such a law, to rewrite, through an exemption, the current law obligating the Town to receive permission from Prince Edward County before water can be released from Mottley Lake, legislation that Prince Edward County was not a party to and had no part in. Edmunds' bill died in subcommittee, but that is the end of a single chapter, not the story.

There are chapters of the story yet to be written in the years and decades ahead as downstream urban-suburban communities, or even our own near neighbors, look toward our Sandy River Reservoir.

State laws can be changed every year, any year. Whether Prince Edward County wants them changed or not. That crucial point must not be swept aside or under the rug.

A law that protects our Sandy River Reservoir Water now can be eliminated, amended, exemption-filled, or re-written at any session of the General Assembly.

The politically powerful ARWA communities can attempt the very same strategy pursued by the Town of Farmville, and ARWA will have far more political clout to get any such legislation out of subcommittee and onto the floor of the House and Senate for a vote.

When a law is changed, the piece of paper it was written on the year before, and any letter describing it, is worth more than the actual law that no longer exists.

Meanwhile, the line for communities interested in the Sandy River Reservoir forms in the rear.

And we're not even in it.