King William Reservoir (VA): Background

The city of Newport News and several other localities want to build a water supply reservoir in King William County. The project involves the withdrawal of up to 75 million gallons of water a day from the tidal, freshwater portion of the Mattaponi River. It would also involve building a 78-foot high, 1,700-foot long earthen dam on Cohoke Creek, a tributary of the Pamunkey River, resulting in the creation of a 1,526-acre reservoir. Pipelines would be constructed to transfer water from the Mattaponi River to the reservoir and from the reservoir to Newport News' existing water supply system in New Kent County.

The reservoir would destroy at least 437 acres of wetlands, and inundate 21 miles of free-flowing streams, wiping out part of the unique Cohoke Creek watershed. In addition, 105 acres of wetlands located below the dam would be severely degraded due to reduced flow in Cohoke Creek. The proposed reservoir would also threaten recovery efforts for the declining shad fishery.

Misinformation and Shortcuts
Throughout the permitting process, Newport News has greatly inflated its future water needs, according to the Corps’ original findings and independent studies, as well as providing flawed and incomplete data to agencies and the public. The Corps confirmed in 2001 that the city had exaggerated its water needs, and that its future needs could be satisfied by other means.
In addition to basing its permit approval on exaggerated water needs, the Corps also approved a deficient wetlands mitigation plan that fails to meet the government's "no net loss" policy for wetlands. Newport News' plans for building artificial wetlands at multiple and scattered sites - some many miles from the lost wetlands - cannot replace the function and value of the intact ecosystem that would be destroyed.

Every Step of the Way
Since 1998, the Southern Environmental Law Center has played a central role in fighting to stop the massive impoundment in King William County. Currently, we are challenging the federal permit in regard to the wetland loss and mitigation, the lack of need for the reservoir. In separate cases, we argued against the project before the Virginia Marine Resources Commission and the State Water Control Board which have permitting authority over the project.