Eliminating a bad solution still doesn't solve the problem

In "Court rules against permit for reservoir," (May 2009), Judge Henry H. Kennedy of the U.S. District Court rejected the Army Corps of Engineers permit for the King William reservoir in the Virginia Tidewater. Given the considerable damage its construction would inflict on aquatic habitats and sacred lands of Native Americans, the ruling was arguably correct; but I would feel better if there wasn't so much high-fiving by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Ann Jennings, CBF's Virginia executive director, wrote that the decision "was a victory for science." I wish that I could be so sanguine. Her assertion is true only if one views the ecology of the Virginia Coastal Plain in a very narrow sense and ignores other environmental problems of the region that require the attention of sound science. Left unanswered is: Where will the Hampton Roads region obtain the 26 million gallons of water a day that would have been supplied by the reservoir?

Jennings mentioned "desalination, use of existing reservoirs, conservation and reuse of gray water," but in light of the current capacity of these sources, it's difficult to imagine them meeting regional water demands over the next few decades. Thus, in the short run, the preferred water source will certainly be the groundwater that underlies the Virginia Coastal Plain.

Residents of the Virginia Coastal Plain withdraw more than 130 million gallons of groundwater per day. Although estimates of future use are subject to a measure of uncertainty, the demographics of the region prescribe a continuation of the steady growth witnessed the in last 40 years.

Unfortunately, the groundwater supply is already showing signs of stress. Artesian water levels exhibit a long-term and persistent decline and are approaching critical levels at some localities. Deep cones of depression in the potentiometric surfaces of confined aquifers have developed at centers of large-scale groundwater withdrawals. If all the rejection of the reservoir does is shift the burden of water demand to groundwater, then we have traded one problem for another.

I would like to see those environmental groups who struggled so hard against the flawed reservoir project get behind efforts to develop a diversified water supply program for the Virginia Coastal Plain, one that brings together water sources in an efficient, economical and environmentally sound system. Otherwise, the rejection of the King William reservoir will be a hollow victory.

Frank W. Fletcher
www.groundwatervirginia.org