A little progress on water

Published 9:39 pm Thursday, November 19, 2009

It’s hard to believe, sometimes, that the use of and planning for water resources would cause such controversy in an area that draws its name and its defining characteristics from the abundant bodies of water that separate cities, establish harbors, provide livelihoods and recreational opportunities and even snarl traffic.

A look back through the pages of Hampton Roads’ news during the last few decades, however, proves that some of the area’s most divisive issues have been those dealing with water.

A pipeline from Lake Gaston set Southside Virginia and Northeast North Carolina against Virginia Beach. A proposed reservoir in King William set that county against the city of Newport News. An agreement whereby the city of Norfolk will sell to Suffolk water located in reservoirs that are located within Suffolk’s city limits leaves citizens wondering how Suffolk ever could have ceded control of so valuable a resource.

All of the controversies come down to the value of that most basic resource. Life on a biologically significant level simply cannot exist without water. Neighbors have fought over it, enemies have killed for it. And even in a time when every convenience store in the nation carries caseloads of 20-ounce bottles of it, without a ready and lasting supply of water out of the ground, no municipality can survive for long.

Despite the questionable decision Suffolk officials made years ago that results in the city having to buy water collected in a reservoir within its own borders, today’s city officials are looking to the long term when it comes to planning how to provide sufficient water for a growing population.

The city’s new Moore’s Point well, which is slated to go online next year, is a great example of careful planning for allocation of resources. The well is intended to serve both as a resource bridge that will tide the city over until the agreement with Norfolk kicks in and as a source of free water that will help offset some of the need to purchase water when the time comes to do so.

Public works officials also are being smart in the way they go about getting the new well up and running. By contacting property owners who might have deep-water wells that would be affected by the massive amounts of water that are to be removed from the aquifer, Suffolk is ensuring that it helps mitigate the possible damage to those private wells before it occurs, rather than afterwards, when it would be more expensive to do so and more likely to result in angry taxpayers.

We’ve come a long way from damming up the stream without regard for what effect it might have to our neighbors downstream. There still are controversies surrounding water issues, but at least officials are willing to face them head-on. That almost sounds like progress.