PE Releases Water Data

Published 4:36 pm Thursday, February 14, 2013

PRINCE EDWARD – The Appomattox River Water Authority is interested in water sources that could be used as a supply during emergency situations and has an eye on the Sandy River Reservoir.

And the board has agreed to provide the Authority with technical information that they have requested.

Board Chairman William “Buckie” Fore, Vice-Chairman Howard Simpson and County Administrator Wade Bartlett met with the executive director of the Authority and Chesterfield's Director of Utilities last week at the request of the Authority. County supervisors, meeting for the first time as a group to discuss the issue since the story broke in The Herald late last week, talked at length before agreeing to provide the Authority technical information that would allow them to develop models on the impact of two test releases.

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“What they are interested in is studying the effects of a release of water from Sandy River Reservoir and if it would be beneficial to the Appomattox River Authority – they don't know,” County Administrator Wade Bartlett reported. “No one knows.”

Specifically, the two releases would involve between 30-50 million gallons of water to determine the impact on Lake Chesdin. The Authority serves, at least in part, Chesterfield, Prince George, Dinwiddie, and provides water to Colonial Heights and the City of Petersburg.

“They were told by the board members that they, the Authority, would need to develop models, estimating the impact on the Sandy River Reservoir. And then, once those models were complete, they could come back, make a presentation to the board and the full board at that time would make a decision whether to approve this or not,” Bartlett further explained.

But for the moment, the only request from the authority was for a release of data to their engineers to develop the impact model.

“So I guess right now that is the one and only request from the Appomattox River Authority is to allow the release of the data that we control,” Bartlett told the board.

Taking Issue

Prince Edward has long weighed the use of the reservoir – located east of Farmville – as a public water source, and even flirted with building a system to serve areas south of Town and providing water to the towns of Crewe and Burkeville in recent years.

The board, however, has not followed through on tapping the reservoir's resources.

“I, for one, and I find some other supervisors in the same mood, am extremely unhappy about this situation,” commented Farmville District (701) Supervisor Jim Wilck. “I think that there should have been a called meeting and every one of the board should have been here for that presentation. I find it very difficult to read in the newspaper what happened at a meeting that I know nothing about.”

Wilck said he planned to have his own meeting with the authority, get his own questions answered. (Fore would ask about seeking another meeting with the same representatives for the full board and give them the opportunity to ask questions.)

Fore defended, “…Those two people called this office and told us who they wanted to meet with. And so I did exactly what they asked and I saw nothing wrong with it and I still don't.”

He would also note, “I had no idea whatsoever of making a decision for this board. I've not done it over the years; I don't intend to start now. But I can listen for the board and I can, in this position, offer instructions to someone who requests something of this board for a decision to come back to this board to be made. And I will hold to that.”

Fore said that it was a very brief presentation, noting that they simply stated what they would like to do.

“…After we asked some questions-Wade knows more about the water than Howard and me-we three agreed that the best thing they could do was to have their engineers form some type of model that they could bring back to our board and make a thorough presentation for this board to make a decision on,” Fore stated. “And that's how it was left.”

The reservoir and the water in it, he would offer, belongs to the people of Prince Edward and the Town of Farmville.

“And I thought about this meeting almost every hour since I sat across the table from these two gentlemen. I have said, I have maintained, that everyone downstream from us is looking at that hole of water. For several years past in succession, we have had extremely dry weather, we have been threatened with really severe drought. Everyone is looking at water sources and they haven't said anything yet; this time they did.

“This is the tip of the iceberg in my opinion. If we let one gallon of water out of that reservoir headed for Lake Chesdin in the name of a test, that lets those folks-the Appomattox River Authority-in the door and they will not stop until they own Prince Edward County's water. That's my opinion,” Fore said.

Leigh District Supervisor Don Gantt said he was disappointed.

“…To read about it in the paper after it's all said and done, it upset me a little bit, too,” he said.

Gantt maintained that the three had time to let the board know they were coming to Farmville.

“That's not what they wanted, Don,” Fore said. “Understand that.”

"It doesn't matter what they want. You represent the board. It matters what we want,” Gantt said.

About this time every year, Bartlett also defended, they've received a call from the authority “and various people have come and talked with us, never asked anything. So this was an annual pilgrimage, as we saw it.”

They didn't realize it wasn't a “pilgrimage”, until the day of the meeting, he relayed, noting there was really no presentation.

Gantt offered that he would have appreciated the opportunity “to back you up on it before the paper even came out.” He later cited, “It was too big a deal for board members not to know about it.”

Gantt also stated, “As far as, you know, letting a gallon of water go and everything, I'm not totally sure that's the direction to take, but I understand why you have got that mindset.”

More Criticism

Wilck challenged that he knows “more about the water situation than Wade does.” He noted that he's “spent much more time on it; I've got three file boxes of stuff on it. This idea, as you say, is not new. You think…when they get their foot inside the door they can take our water. Well, we've got a letter from the state (that) says otherwise. In addition to that, I talked to some supervisors from Dinwiddie and Chesterfield at the recent VACo convention and I asked if a situation were available, what would it be. Could we get a letter…I want another letter from the state saying they couldn't take it and then I would want a letter from the Appomattox River Authority saying that they would never try to take it with enough monetary damages on our side that they couldn't do it, possibly.”

He also said that he would want an elevation set so they didn't end up with a reservoir that looks like Buggs Island.

“And there's a whole lot of questions in there that obviously you didn't think about-you didn't ask,” Wilck said.

Farmville District Supervisor (801) also said she thinks they should have been notified.

In The Main

The broader issue of what is to become of the water, Wilck would maintain that if they get any water, they would have to pay them for it.

Simpson would offer that he is not “interested in letting anybody have our water.”

While Fore had offered that the water belongs to Prince Edward and the Town of Farmville, Bartlett said DEQ would beg to differ, assessing that the water belongs to the state of Virginia.

Wilck was open to exploring the possibility of water as a money-maker, noting that they're looking at a school situation where they may add $10 million to the debt. (The school board has developed a proposed list of capital projects for the coming years that would total over $10 million.)

“Here's an opportunity, after we look at it and make sure that we…don't get penalized anyway in this situation, of perhaps taking care of all the debt that we have presently, and maybe even a little left over for that school situation,” Wilck said. “Now, in my mind, the only way I would even consider and the way would vote is I'd have to do some research-which pretty much I'm through with-contenting myself that there's enough water here to take care of those drought situations.”

The worst drought that they've had so far, he cited, was in 2002 and lasted 28 days when there was not enough flowing down to take care of the needs. He offered that the usable reserves in Wilck's Lake is 60 million gallons, he cited; the usable water in Mottley Lake is 100 million. The town, he also said, currently uses 1.1 million.

“So without sitting here and calculating, I'd say we have 120 days reserve there when the worst thing in history lasted for 30 days,” Wilck offered. “Now, beyond that, there is an excess of 400 million gallons in the soil conservation lakes up the Buffalo. Now what is that added to that? Two years without a drop of rain coming in.”

The board would ultimately approve the release of the information on a 5-2 vote with Prospect Supervisor Howard “Pete” Campbell unable to attend due to illness, but not before defeating Gantt's substitute motion – by a 3-4 count-to table it until the next regular or a called meeting. Still, supervisors did have a lengthy discussion on possible strings before giving their approval. Among the suggestions was that the Authority pay for the data (which the County has paid for) and if they did try to take the water involuntarily that there would be some financial penalty.

“I'm not concerned with charging them for the studies, but we shouldn't just give them the data that we paid for without any strings attached,” Hampden District Supervisor Charles McKay suggested at one point.

McKay and Lockett District Supervisor Robert “Bobby” Jones were on the short side of the 5-2 vote.