Countywide water system goal of proposed task force

Published 12:09 pm Wednesday, May 18, 2016

By Diana McFarland

News editor

Officials from Isle of Wight County, Smithfield and Windsor met Monday to begin hammering out a plan to distribute the water available through the Norfolk water deal and the Western Tidewater Water Authority (WTWA).

The meeting was part of a fledgling effort to establish a water and sewer task force that will not only include elected officials and government staffers, but also members of the community.

The task force was one caveat of the utility agreement being forged between Smithfield and Isle of Wight concerning the sale of water to Gatling Pointe.{mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

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The goal is to find a way to divvy up the 5 million gallons a day ultimately available through the WTWA, as well as convince those outside the development service districts, and not on public utilities, that the expense is a benefit to all Isle of Wight residents.

For instance, increased commercial growth, fueled by water availability, could keep real estate tax rates down, said Isle of Wight County spokesman Don Robertson.

Part of the urgency is that the WTWA has asked Isle of Wight County for years what it plans to do with the water available from the Norfolk water deal, which was signed in 2009, said Isle of Wight Utilities Service Director Don Jennings.

If Isle of Wight does not provide that information, the WTWA won’t bring the water to the county, Jennings said.

The plan, to be presented to the WTWA in June, currently calls for allocating three million gallons a day to the northern end of Isle of Wight County and two million gallons a day to the Windsor Development Service District, which includes the intermodal park, Jennings said.

A line is already planned to the intermodal park and the Board of Supervisors recently approved plans for another water line along Route 10.

Smithfield and Windsor officials are interested in the county’s future plans due to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality reducing the amount of water the towns are permitted to pump from ground water aquifers.

Smithfield has eight years left on its current permit, while Windsor’s is under review.

“Surface water is going to become very important to use … we need to consume more water,” said Smithfield District Supervisor Dick Grice, who led the discussion.

The 40-year Norfolk water deal uses surface water from lakes located in Isle of Wight County and Suffolk, but owned by the city of Norfolk. The deal between Norfolk, Suffolk, Isle of Wight and the WTWA allows the water to be pumped to Suffolk, where it will be treated and distributed.

In fiscal 2015, Isle of Wight spent $8.2 million in various costs to cover expenses related to the Norfolk water deal and the WTWA.

The deal has generated controversy for years, but Grice contends that Isle of Wight is in a good place, compared to other parts of the state and country, which are grappling with the question of where the water will come from in the future.

“The only way we’re going to drive down water costs is to consume more of the wet stuff,” Grice said.

And the county can only do that by including the towns, Grice said.

The chief administrators of each locality — Isle of Wight, Smithfield and Windsor — will meet to develop a structure and timeline for the entire task force before presenting the plan to the governing bodies. The task force would include residents from each of the five voting districts.

The task force is expected to work along with updates to Isle of Wight County’s comprehensive plan, as well as utility master plans for both the county and the town of Smithfield.  {/mprestriction}