HD33 - Report of the State Water Commission

Executive Summary:
The 2002 Session of the General Assembly requested the State Water Commission to undertake a two-year study of the effectiveness of the Commonwealth's water policies. During the first year of the study, the Commission devoted much of its time to reviewing the current statutory and regulatory framework for managing Virginia's water resources, examining the use of those water resources, identifying the types of information critical to development of an effective statewide water plan, and recommending legislation establishing a water-planning process.

The Virginia Constitution establishes that it is the policy of the Commonwealth to conserve, develop, and utilize its natural resources. While state government has been effective in its constitutional responsibility "to protect its atmosphere, lands and waters from pollution, impairment or destruction..," it has lacked a similar commitment in addressing issues related to water conservation and supply management. The 2002 summer drought further highlighted the need for state government not only to assume a leadership role in developing a strategy to respond to drought events but also to oversee the formulation of a longer term water plan to manage Virginia's water resources in the face of increasing conflict among user groups. To assist the Commission in delineating the possible nature and scope of a statewide water plan, the Commission, together with the Secretaries of Natural Resources and Health and Human Services, created a 23-member technical advisory committee. The panel, composed of representatives of various stakeholder groups, was asked to respond to the following questions:

1. What should be the state's and local government's roles in water supply planning?

2. What principles should guide water supply planning?

3. What tools are needed for effective planning?

Using these questions to frame its discussions, the advisory committee recommended draft legislation to the Commission that mandated the development of a statewide water resources plan and defined the process under which such planning would occur. The objectives of the planning process, as described in the draft legislation, are to (i) ensure that adequate and safe drinking water is available to all citizens and (ii) protect all beneficial uses of the Commonwealth's water resources. After much discussion of the draft proposal, the Commission, with one member dissenting, endorsed the measure, with one significant change: that development of the plan's criteria and guidelines and the preliminary water resources plan should be subject to review by the Governor and the committees of jurisdiction before becoming effective.