News | September 23, 2009

Newport News Scraps the King William Reservoir

Ending a legal and regulatory battle SELC and its partners have waged for 15 years, the City of Newport News, Virginia, voted September 22 to scrap plans for the King William Reservoir—an unnecessary project that would have resulted in the largest authorized destruction of wetlands in the mid-Atlantic since Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972.

The city’s decision comes in the wake of a federal court ruling SELC won on March 31 that overturned the Army Corps of Engineers’ approval of the reservoir. The court found that the Corps was “arbitrary and capricious” in its conclusion that the project would not cause significant environmental harm. In addition to destroying more than 400 acres of wetlands, the impoundment would have flooded some 21 miles of streams that feed the York River and the Chesapeake Bay, and it jeopardized shad fisheries and cultural sites vitally important to Native American communities.

Stopping this massive project was a long-term, team effort among SELC, the Alliance to Save the Mattaponi, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club. In addition, the Mattaponi Tribe was represented by the Institute for Public Representation at Georgetown University Law School in the tribe's fight against the reservoir.

With the help of independent scientific experts, we have shown all along that the plan to build a 1,500-acre reservoir in King William County, Virginia, was based on inflated projections of water needs and that the Newport News area could meet demand in far less destructive ways. The city now acknowledges that the area’s water use has not increased as predicted and that total water demand over the past 15 years has remained relatively unchanged.  The city now plans to complete a new assessment of its water needs and to take incremental steps to increase its water supply.

We applaud the city’s decision to abandon this massive project, and we encourage Newport News to take an honest look at its future water requirements and to meet them in ways that protect natural resources and promote sensible growth.