In the western part of the country, statewide and intra-state battles over water rights, planning and management are raging. They have been for some time. In the eastern United States, however, several consecutive years of drought have been the impetus for state governments to put the development of water supply policy and planning on the front burner.
In Virginia for example, the governor announced an initiative aimed at development of a statewide water supply and management plan. As a part of that initiative, he has appointed a Citizens Technical Advisory Committee, whose job it is to sort out water policy issues and make recommendations on how to proceed with a plan for those agencies that are charged with developing a Virginia plan.
Through the work of the Virginia Water Well Association's legislative team and lobbyist, the association secured a seat on the state's water supply planning tactical advisory council. Being a part of that group's discussions has proved to be very useful to the association, and the initial task force report supported the preservation of private property rights with regard to ground water use. In addition, participation gave the association first-hand information on the positions of other stakeholders on the issues as well as providing an up front view of the state's position. Ultimately, this information will be useful to the industry at large.
The panel began its second round of meetings recently. Here are some items that are being considered:
- There is support on the advisory panel for the concept that all water supply planning to be implemented through municipal water plans.
- There is talk of municipal water needs taking precedence over all other uses of water. Local governments would be required to predict their water needs not only for the present, but also for projected growth and development. They would then be able to devise means to protect whatever resources - ground or surface water - they might need for the future.
- There is an assumption on the part of state government that the state should control all water supplies - even though ground water law in Virginia supports property owners' rights to reasonable use of the water beneath their property.
- There is little recognition by people outside our industry of the positive impacts of private wells on the environment, the costs of delivering water to rural areas and private business, and on public health and safety.
In short, for the most part, those who are engaged in statewide water supply planning are not considering private wells as a resource. Furthermore, they are not concerned about preserving citizens' right to choose their water supply - even though wells are now, and have been, a primary source of water for all beneficial uses.
It is safe to assume that the Virginia experience is not unique. If it is, it won't be for long. Certainly it raises the question of how involved drillers are in their state's water supply planning activities. Statewide water planning is fast becoming a fact of life. Federal initiatives exist that are speeding up this process in the west and eventually nationwide. Are state water well associations positioned to be involved in the process? Are association members ready to be advocates for the role of wells in the water delivery system? There still is time for the answer to be “yes.”
Private wells provide a safe, economical and environmentally friendly source of water. However, if practitioners of our industry are not represented at all discussions of state-wide water policy, we may soon discover that the only voices being heard are the voices of those who think that public water systems are the preferred water delivery system.