RD111 - Annual Report of the State Water Commission

    Executive Summary:
    The State Water Commission is a permanent agency of the Commonwealth composed of 13 members of the General Assembly and two citizen members. It is directed by statute to (i) study all qualitative and quantitative water supply and allocation problems in the Commonwealth, (ii) coordinate the legislative recommendations of state entities responsible for water supply and allocation, and (iii) report annually its findings and recommendations to the General Assembly and the Governor. In 2003, the Commission held two meetings during which it reviewed (a) the status of water supply planning in Virginia, and (b) legislation that allowed "adequate" public water supply facilities to be incorporated as an element in a locality's comprehensive plan (SB 968).

    During the 2003 Session, the General Assembly enacted Senate Bill 1221 that provided a structure for water supply planning in Virginia. Patroned by Senator Martin Williams, Chairman of the State Water Commission, the legislation requires the State Water Control Board, in consultation, with the State Health Commissioner, local governments, public service authorities, and other interested parties, to establish a comprehensive water supply planning process for the development of local, regional, and state water supply plans. A citizen's technical advisory committee (TAC) was to be established to advise the Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Health on the development of the state water plan, and the plan's associated criteria, guidelines, and regulations.

    Mr. David Paylor, Deputy Secretary of Natural Resources, and Mr. Mark Rubin, Facilitator for the TAC, reported the progress being made in developing the water supply planning process. The TAC was composed of 31 individuals representing conservation groups, agriculture, trade organizations, water suppliers, power generators, and regional, state and federal agencies. The TAC was charged with developing a regulation that would guide local governments in creating water supply plans. Such plans would enable localities to respond to drought situations and ensure the reliability of public water supplies in the future. Under the newly enacted statute, draft criteria for the development of local and regional water supply plans were to be prepared and submitted to the State Water Commission and the legislative committees charged with oversight of water resources issues.

    Mr. Mark Rubin described the process of building a consensus among members of the TAC who represented very diverse interests. Consensus was defined as all members of the TAC being able "to live with and not actively oppose" the various recommendations of the group. The TAC met extensively, beginning its deliberations in April 2003. To accomplish its mission, the TAC proceeded on a two-track process. Initially, the emphasis was to reach consensus on developing criteria for the development of local and regional water supply plans. That effort was to be followed by the development of a state preliminary water resources plan. Both of these tasks were to be completed by December 1, 2003.

    In December 2003, the TAC delivered its report to the Commission. While it was thought at the outset of the process that the result of the TAC's work would be draft regulations, which would then be proposed to the State Water Control Board, it became apparent, according to the Report of the Water Policy Technical Advisory Committee, that the TAC "was not ready to commit to draft regulations." The TAC members believed that a number of important questions still needed to be answered in order for the regulations to be promulgated in the appropriate context. Those overarching questions included:

    • What is the cost of developing and implementing the local, regional, and state plans and who will bear the costs?
    • How will the various local plans be incorporated into the state plan?
    • What does the approval by the state of a local plan mean? Will the state be an advocate for those specific local water supply projects that have been certified by the state for inclusion in the state plan?
    • What will be the state's role in resolving conflict among local plans?

    Although these issues remain to be resolved, there was agreement among members of the TAC in a number of areas integral to the planning process. Consensus was reached that a water supply plan should include: (i) current and historical information on existing water resources, (ii) current and historical information documenting existing water use, (iii) projections of future water use, (iv) existing and historic resource conditions, (v) water conservation measures, (vi) alternatives that would increase the water supply or reduce the water demand to meet future needs, and (vii) mapping of water resources. Several basic principles were also agreed upon:

    1. There is a need for water supply planning and the effort should be "locally driven";
    2. The State should provide incentives to encourage regional planning;
    3. The development of local water supply plans should not be an unfunded mandate placed on localities;
    4. Existing property rights under current law should be preserved; and
    5. There is not sufficient data to accurately characterize the resource, particularly with respect to groundwater; however, the process should not be delayed while the data is being sought.

    The second component of Senate Bill 1221 was that DEQ was to begin work on a preliminary water resources plan. This plan is to be a compilation of existing local and state plans as a means of determining where gaps in current planning exist. The gaps and deficiencies, identified in this process will allow DEQ to take note of the policy issues that will need to be resolved as a more comprehensive planning process is being designed and implemented.

    It is now the expectation that DEQ will not complete the development of the relevant regulations for another six to nine months. Because of the desire of numbers of the Commission to review the water resources supply regulations before they have been finalized, it is the Commission's recommendation that the deadline for DEQ to promulgate the regulations be extended one year. This will enable the Commission and the General Assembly time to review the proposed regulations before they become effective.

    The other item of business taken up by the Commission was a request by the Senate Committee on Local Government to review Senate Bill 968. The bill, patroned by Senator Edward Houck, is similar to a number of other pieces of legislation referred to as "adequate public facilities" measures. The bill authorizes localities to determine whether public water supply facilities are adequate to support the services that would be required by the construction of a proposed subdivision. Representatives of the Rappahannock River Basin Commission (RRBC), which supported the legislation, testified as to the merits of the proposal.

    The RRBC has been engaged over the last three years in developing a model for water supply planning for the basin. The RRBC's work resulted in 13 recommendations one of which was the introduction of SB 968. The bill was characterized as a water supply planning and management measure and is part of a comprehensive planning approach for the region. The objective of the RRBC was to achieve a higher level of water resources planning at a time when little planning was occurring. The coordination of the availability of water resource and water supply adequacy is just one tool in controlling land use, according to Dr. William Cox of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and a consultant to the RRBC. Dr. Cox suggested that the legislative proposal would enhance the ability of localities to be more responsive in matters related to water resources management. Proponents emphasized that the legislation should not be used as a growth control measure, and, in fact, according to them, the faster growing localities in the basin have not used water supply as a growth management tool.

    The State Water Commission suggested that those supporting SB 968 work with staff to redraft the proposal so as to better define those situations when a locality would require specific information from the developer of a proposed subdivision regarding the availability of water supplies. The subsequent, amended draft proposal would authorize the locality to determine whether there are adequate water sources and drinking water distribution infrastructure to deliver sufficient and safe water for human consumption to meet the demand required by a new subdivision. If the locality determines that adequate sources and distribution system do not exist, it must provide a timeframe for when the drinking water facilities will be adequate to meet the demand. Because the Commission did not have the opportunity to review the amended proposal, prior to its presentation to the Commission, no action was taken on the proposal.

    This Executive Summary will serve as the State Water Commission 2004 annual report.