Smithfield, county approve new water deal

Published 4:06 pm Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Isle of Wight County has released Smithfield from a 2018 agreement that would have obligated the town to begin purchasing county water this year.

Per the terms of the new agreement, which county supervisors approved unanimously Nov. 16, the town will make two half-million-dollar payments to Isle of Wight, one on July 1, 2024, and the other on the same date in 2025. The $1 million in total is intended to equal the payments the town would have made to the county through 2028 under the 2018 deal.

Smithfield’s Town Council approved the revised agreement a week earlier on Nov. 8.

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Smithfield supplies roughly 114,500 gallons annually to county water customers in the Gatling Pointe neighborhood, located just outside the town limits on Battery Park Road. Five years ago, Smithfield agreed to switch an equivalent number of town customers in the Benns Church Boulevard area to county water by mid-2023.

Per the terms of the new agreement, the town will continue to provide water and sewer service to Gatling Pointe and will begin providing water to Hardy Elementary School and surrounding Thomas Park, Tormentors Creek and Days Point neighborhoods using the newly built water main extending from the town border to the new school. The agreement caps the amount of water allotted to Hardy and the surrounding area at 50,000 gallons per day.

Another provision of the agreement gives the county the right to sell water directly to residents and businesses that move into a proposed mixed-use development dubbed “The Promontory” that would add 262 homes and five commercial parcels along the Benns Church Boulevard corridor, even though the development is located just inside the town limits.

County Administrator Randy Keaton called the 2023 agreement, with its $1 million payment and water rights to The Promontory “a better deal for the county.”

If the council approves The Promontory, the resulting influx of new water users will lessen Isle of Wight’s annual cost of participating in the Western Tidewater Water Authority’s 2009 Norfolk Water Deal, intended to wean the area off its dependence on groundwater. The WTWA is comprised of Isle of Wight County and Suffolk.

The Norfolk deal allocates Isle of Wight 1.75 million gallons per day of surface water from Norfolk for 2023 and will increase the county’s share to 2 million gallons for 2024, according to county data. Isle of Wight is obligated to pay for the full amount even though the county expects 1.32 million gallons of its 2024 allocation will go unused.

Keaton, at the Nov. 16 meeting, said the county’s use of its WTWA water has increased by roughly 5% per year. Despite the increase, county projections from June showed Isle of Wight spending an estimated $756,426 for next year’s unused water.

Smithfield had entered the 2018 deal based on projections from that year showing the town’s water demand would within five years exceed the maximum 1.2 million gallons per day allowed under its Virginia Department of Environmental Quality groundwater withdrawal permit. Town Manager Michael Stallings, however, told the council in July that Smithfield’s groundwater use has averaged roughly 61% of its permitted maximum over the past five years, with its 2022 usage at 65%.

Stallings said complying with the original agreement would have entailed spending $2 million to $3 million on infrastructure to correct a problem that would have been created by mixing the town’s and county’s differently-treated water sources.

Smithfield uses chlorine at its reverse osmosis plant to disinfect water from its municipal wells, while the county’s WTWA water is treated using a blend of chlorine and ammonia known as chloramine, which when mixed can produce a rotten-egg smell if mixed with chlorinated water.

Editor’s note: This story was updated on Nov. 29 at 1:16 p.m. to correct that Jack Reed is no longer Smithfield’s public works director. He left his employment in October.