The proposed Warrenton Comprehensive Plan threatens the town’s reliable daily water supply with an aggressive 50 percent population growth strategy. Warrenton’s reservoirs, wells, and treatment plant are not unlimited resources. Their capacity has been challenged in the past at significantly lower population levels.
Some may recall the 2007 drought, when the Town invoked “voluntary” water restrictions. By September 2007, the water level at the Warrenton Reservoir had dropped by half, the Airlee reservoir was down four feet and was dropping 1.5 inches a day, and Warrenton was only days away from mandatory water restrictions. Fortunately, it rained.
Back in 2007, Warrenton had a 32 percent cushion between its daily water supply capacity (“safe yield”) and average daily demand. Plan Warrenton 2040 would shrink that cushion to just 9%, even with the reactivation of two dormant wells.
Consecutive days of higher than average water usage can strain systems that don’t adequately plan for water storage, breakages/downtime, and drought. Some towns, even in water-rich states, must endure routine restrictions on water use, simply because town planners did not pace development with water resources. Is this Warrenton’s fate?
Warrenton uses at least 50 percent more water on peak water demand days than on the “average day.” The growth called for in Plan Warrenton 2040 would force Warrenton to run at a deficit of over 875,000 gallons of water on a peak day at plan build-out. The town has never experienced daily deficits of that magnitude. The peak day demand gap in 2007 was only 154,000 gallons.
How will Warrenton fare in future droughts with fewer reserves? Might water restrictions be imposed just to meet normal demand in the hotter months? Is the town depending on adding water storage or expanding the reservoir? Why is this not discussed in the proposed Comprehensive Plan? How much additional storage do we need and at what cost?
The current Comprehensive Plan states, “The size of the reservoir … could be expanded… but only at considerable public expense to raise the dam.” Why do planners now believe it is to our benefit to grow the town beyond our current water resources?
Worse, Warrenton Plan 2040 may have underestimated future water needs. Questions remain unanswered about the omission of water demand for the new Walker Drive development, and other projects with site plans approved since 2015. Further, Warrenton Plan 2040 water supply projections assume “There will be no substantial or major operational problems and mechanical failures in the current water and wastewater system…” This unrealistic assumption is in direct conflict with basic system reliability safeguards for determination of safe water yield.
In 2018, the Virginia Code was amended to protect citizens from such shortsightedness. The law now requires that sustainability of the water supply be specifically addressed in Comprehensive Plans. Warrenton’s proposed Comprehensive Plan should be no exception. For example, the town should:
Institute system reliability standards for safe yield from wells
Complete an inventory to identify any sites omitted from the water demand projections
Identify the amount of water storage needed to meet repeated days of peak water use in summer
Clearly state if existing water supplies are sufficient for the targeted growth
Identify if increased water demand will trigger environmental requirements to plan for a water plant expansion
Adjust population targets and aggressive building policies to ensure that demand does not outpace current water supply resources.