Sunday, July 25, 2010

HUGE News on the Water Supply: Virginia's DEQ Says Norris's Plan Falls Short

There's a major development in the ongoing water supply debate: in today's Progress (here), Brian Wheeler reports that a draft letter from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality concludes that the Norris Plan wouldn't produce enough water to satisfy the area's demand over 50 years.

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Since I saw him speak about it at a Chamber of Commerce forum this past winter, I have been a supporter of Dave Norris's alternative approach to the water issue: dredge the South Fork reservoir and add to the existing Ragged Mountain dam, rather than build an entirely new one (Norris has been careful to say that he's withholding final judgment until the various analyses are finished, but he seems inclined toward the "dredging +" idea).

I like Norris's proposal because building an entirely new dam seems unnecessarily (1) intrusive and (2) expensive ($142 million!) to me, at least based on what I read and hear from opponents of that project.

But the DEQ feedback is a major roadblock. The 2004 demand analysis called for 18.7 million gallons a day by 2055, and DEQ says that Norris's plan would not meet this demand and would therefore necessitate revised permits from the state.  Tom Frederick, according to Wheeler's article, says the new permits would dangerously delay the entire project, and perhaps even more ominously David Slutzky seems to think it's time for Norris to cave ("what we are really talking about here are delay tactics from people who don't want to just admit they had good intentions, a good idea, and it just didn't work out").

It will be extremely interesting to hear the reactions of the various interested parties to the DEQ letter.  It sounds like Norris is interpreting it as leaving room for modification to his plan, but could this be a game-changer in terms of people deciding that we do need a brand new dam?  For the sake of dam opponents, let's hope the current dryness does not turn into a full-on drought, because that could definitely shape people's perceptions.

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Wheeler's article is very in-depth and provides just the right amount of background.  It reinforces my impression that the CT / DP partnership was a brilliant move on both entities' parts: it gets these really well-researched and well-written analyses by CT out to a broad readership, and it gives the DP more "big picture" articles.

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