Friday, August 8, 2008

Is the King William needed?

That question will make Newport News and Peninsula government leaders cringe. But it is a question that many continue to ask about the King William Reservoir. The Board of Supervisors in King William County acknowledged the uncertainty surrounding the question last November, when the board voted not to borrow $20 million to keep buying property needed for the reservoir. Before that, the county had been buying and holding land for Newport News since 1990, under an agreement with the city. That's 17 years of moving forward on the reservoir, temporarily halted with one vote.

My story in today's paper explores the argument in two reports released Thursday by the Alliance to Save the Mattaponi. The gist: Previous NN Waterworks projections have not accurately predicted water use up to now, so why should people trust that the projections out to 2040 and beyond will be any closer to the mark?

People are conserving a lot more water. New shower heads and sink faucets and toilets make a real difference, it turns out. Consider that 340,000 people lived in the NN Waterworks service area in 1990, and that population now numbers 400,000. You would expect a similar 18 percent increase in water use? No. Water use has fallen during that time, from about 45 million gallons per day to 43.5 million gallons per day. Could that conservation trend continue? Toilets make up 40 percent of a home's water use, but they don't get replaced often. So it reasonable to assume that older toilets will continue to be replaced, for decades, with more efficient bowls?

This page from the report by York County resident Donald H. Phillips is also pretty astounding. The region's largest industrial water users have clearly found ways to cut use. Smart business for them.

But Dave Morris, of Newport News Waterworks, who has worked on this project for a long time, says the need to plan for the uncertainty of the future outweighs the discrepancy between the predicted and actual water use. He says waterworks is planning for the next 50 to 100 years, and looking at 15 years of data doesn't change the need for the reservoir over that period.

Newport News City Council votes on Tuesday about borrowing another $20 million to buy land in King William, picking up where the King William officials stopped short and wary.


Anonymous said...

Is the King William RESERVOIR needed?

To read the reports, visit

Anonymous said...

The reports demonstrating that the reservoir isn't needed, which Patrick mentions, are on line at along with links to other press coverage of the issue of whether the reservoir is needed. In his article, Patrick quotes Dave Morris, a waterworks manager for Newport News, as saying that they are planning for 2040 and 2050, not 2010, implying that demand will grow to make up for their 17 million gallon per day (mgd) error. In other coverage Morris even more explicit – claiming that the City will face a 15.9 mgd water shortage by 2040 if the reservoir isn't built.

In fact, the Phillips report demonstrates that even if you include the supply and water needs of all of James City County and Williamsburg, water use still will not grow through 2040. The impact of the federal standard for washing machines has just begun since the standard only went into effect last year. On the other hand, toilets last an average of 50 years so reductions in water use due to the ultra low flow toilet standard will still be growing in 2040. The error in the original projections will continue to grow.

Perhaps it is the fact that the City has already invested $60 million in the project that makes them unable to admit the truth. Still, that's not a reasonable justification for investing additional hundreds of millions of dollars and enduring large maintenance and operational costs forever to eliminate an essentially nonexistent risk.

Dark Star said...

Kudos to Patrick Lynch for starting this blog and writing a story that gives both sides their say. Journalistic integrity is still alive! It is about time there was a forum where people on both sides of this issue can opine in a meaningful way.

Personally, I am very much opposed to this project for many reasons. The facts don't support it and water bill payers can't afford it. I encourage readers on either side of the debate to read the reports Patrick reported which are on the web at and then discuss the facts on this blog. I certainly plan to weigh in soon.

Thomas C Rubino said...

Good News for Newport News

The facts have proven that Newport News has decreased their water consumption over the last 18 years. Two recent studies by Don Phillips and Michael Siegel are based on factual water analysis using Newport News Waterworks data for water consumption spanning the last 18 years. These studies indicate Newport News' water need projections are grossly overinflated. We now have data proving that Newport News has decreased their water consumption since 1990, in spite of the fact that there has been a significant population increase, they have closed Big Bethel Reservoir, and we are waging two wars. This contradicts Newport News erred assumption that by this date they would be using far more water than we were in 1990. Their water use projections, used as the basis for the presumed need to build the King William Reservoir, are off by a staggering 40%!
Newport News should avoid spending away their taxpayers future on a project that they clearly do not need. Fortunately we have caught the error in their 18 year old calculations now, before they spend $300,000,000 unnecessarily. Good news all around, for environment, and for the Newport News tax payers. There is already plenty of water, you don't need a new reservoir after all.

In response to David Morris' recent comment in the Daily Press, "We really need to make sure we don't have a problem with water," "We don't want a problem like transportation." Perhaps if they invested $300,000,000 in transportation, instead of an unnecessary reservoir, they would not have a transportation problem?
Bad news for Mayor Frank, David Morris, and Randy Hildebrand of Newport News Waterworks and others who continue to support the King William Reservoir. They are poised to spend another $20,000,000 taxpayer dollars based on their flawed analysis of regional water need. In view of the fact that they have decreased their water usage over the past 18 years, are they defending the City of Newport News or are they defending their own reputations? They seem to have developed an attitude that, "We have already made up our minds. Stop trying to confuse us with the facts."

Thomas C. Rubino
Alliance To Save The Mattaponi
King and Queen, VA

Aug 9, 2008

Anonymous said...

We've over developed already. Let's not make it worse by charging the residents for an additional water source. Next they'll be charging the residents for the additional roads needed for all the additional people.

Angie said...

If it's true that we don't need the water, then what is the justification for continuing the plans for the King William Reservoir?
1. We've spent all this money already, so we have to go ahead to not lose what we've spent, even though water will cost us more if there isn't a large population growth or increasing water usage to absorb those costs.
2. Build it because NN wants to be in the business of selling water to other localities. Can someone tell me how much we do make selling water to others and how much it costs us now to do that?
3. We do want the King William Reservoir, our own version of Lake Gaston, for recreation. So who benefits from land sales and development there? Do we, the people of NN, want to foot the bill for a resort that is not in NN?

Dark Star said...

It looks like NN's numbers don't add up to their projections in any way. That means if the project goes forward, there will be fewer people to split the cost. With a smaller rate base and a project whose cost is always rising, water bills will hit unprecedented levels. Therefore, people will use less than ever and Waterworks sales will decline which will cause more rate hikes to keep up payments on the bonds.

Or, somehow NN and the developers will manage to fit another couple hundred thousand people on the peninsula, stop conservation efforts to keep water use up and everyone will suffer. The roads will be gridlocked and taxes will rise but never be enough. The big developer death spiral.

I hope the project is halted before things get worse. THIS IS CLEARLY VIRGINIA'S WORST WATER PROJECT EVER.

Anonymous said...

So NN City Council spends another $20,000,000 based on the projections of their own "scientists" who have never been correct. At the same time they ignore new projections by the real scientist who has apparently always been correct. No wonder the city is a billion dollars in debt. Make that 1,020,000,000 after today.