The James City County Board of Supervisors chairman has openly backed a proposal to secure a raw water intake permit and build a water treatment plant to address the county’s future water needs.
During the board’s budget retreat Jan. 23, Chairman Michael Hipple (Powhatan) said this option, compared to paying Newport News Waterworks millions to get permission to buy water, would allow the county to “control its destiny.”
“This money will go back into the [James City] Service Authority to make our water needs better in the future, rather than going to another municipality,” Hipple said. “We need to keep it in house and control our destiny and future as a board.”
Hipple announced his stance after JCSA General Manager Doug Powell explained the state regulations that could affect how much water the county can withdraw from underground aquifers and options to meet consumer demand.
In response to long-term concerns about the stability of the aquifers, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality is looking to reduce the amount of water it allows the county to withdraw from 8.8 million gallons per day to an amount between 3.8 million and 4 million gallons per day, Powell said.
The county currently uses 5.4 million gallons per day. The last time the county used 3.8 million gallons per day was in 2003, Powell said.
The JCSA’s water withdrawal is also regulated by the Virginia Department of Health, which issues a permit based on peak day demand. Powell said the county could reach 80 percent of its permit level as early as next year, an “early warning” the county needs to start looking for another source of water.
“Even without the DEQ permit issue, we really should be looking for another source of water now anyway,” Powell said.
Demand projections do not show the need for more water dissipating – the county could exceed its current DEQ permit limit by 2040 and reach peak day demand by 2028, Powell said.
He presented two options to supplement the water supply: continue its agreement with Newport News Waterworks or build a water treatment plant.
In 2008 the JCSA paid Newport News Waterworks $25 million for the right to purchase up to 4 million gallons of water per day through 2019. It could ultimately cost the county an additional $49 million to purchase the right to buy another 2 million gallons and build the necessary infrastructure.
In an email to WYDaily, Powell confirmed these costs do not include the amount of money the JCSA would have to spend to buy the water from Newport News Waterworks. The price is set annually per 1,000 gallons.
Alternatively, Powell said JCSA could treat 8 million gallons per day from the Chickahominy River. This option, including infrastructure costs, is estimated to result in $121 million in new debt, but the county would be able to control water rates and system growth, Powell said.
The county would also benefit from 6 million more gallons per day than it would if it extended the Newport News Waterworks agreement, Powell said, and the plan could meet the county’s water supply needs through 2050 and beyond.
The second option would meet the county’s long-term needs, but the first would not, Powell said.
“These are very rough estimates,” Powell said to the board. “I would not focus on the specific numbers, but they are provided to give you a sense of the magnitude and to send the message that we need to begin preparing now as part of the fiscal year 17 budget process for the expenses that are facing us in the future.”
County Administrator Bryan Hill agreed, adding county staff wants to give the board a “window” to make “tangible, intelligent choices” so they can move forward.
The JCSA is also looking to continue incremental rate increases over the next 10 years to address aging infrastructure, fixed costs and debt service coverage, Powell said. A rate increase was approved as part of the fiscal 2016 budget.
Vice Chairman John McGlennon (Roberts) said water usage countywide has not increased despite more consumers connecting to the water system, but said the board should keep in mind the potential for an option to overstress the system.
“What I am concerned about is overcapacity because of the cost, and frankly because it may be a stimulant to growth at a rate we would not find to be desirable,” McGlennon said.
The Board of Supervisors will hold its budget work sessions during the last week of April and first week of May before approving the fiscal 2017 budget.