County should help save dam

Published 5:57 pm Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Isle of Wight County should be part of the solution for saving Smithfield’s Waterworks Road dam.

The Isle of Wight Fire & Rescue Advisory Board reminded county supervisors last month that Smithfield Lake’s importance extends beyond the town limits. In fact, it provides a critical water supply for extinguishing fires throughout the county.

“Without this large water source, fire apparatus would have to travel great distance to bring water back to an incident scene,” Carrollton Fire Chief Tim Nunez, who is chairman of the Advisory Board, wrote in a letter to county officials, urging them to “work with the Town to find an alternative solution for maintaining this critical piece of infrastructure.”

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The Smithfield Town Council has been grappling with whether to decommission the Waterworks Road dam and drain the 26-acre lake it created and has sustained for more than a century. Bringing the dam into compliance with state regulations could cost more than $1.5 million, an engineer has estimated, but essential environmental mitigations if the dam were removed and lake drained could cost taxpayers twice as much.

County Administrator Randy Keaton told Smithfield Fire Chief Chris Edwards at a Board of Supervisors meeting last month that the dam is “strictly a town asset.” That might be true in a technical ownership sense, but Isle of Wight benefits greatly from the lake’s existence.

In addition to boosting fire protection, Smithfield Lake is a recreational jewel for county residents. Fishermen love the lake for its largemouth bass and yellow perch. Other residents like to go to the lake for a little quiet time with nature. A county government with an impressive track record on recreation should hate to see it go for that reason alone.

The lake’s importance as a water source makes it a more urgent priority. Edwards has estimated that his department can pump 1,500 gallons per minute using the lake when filling its tankers, but can only get 600 gallons per minute using the town’s fire hydrants west of the Route 10 bypass.

County and town officials have lots of incentive to work together on saving the dam and lake. We hope they leave no stone unturned in that quest.