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Region needs water-use plan

August 07, 2003

Could an out-of-state company draw so much water from West Virginia's supply that Eastern Panhandle citizens would be left without enough of that vital resource?

Yes, according to an expert who spoke to an interim committee of the state Legislature this week. The report should be a wake-up call on the need for a regional water management plan.

Larry Morandi, of the National Conference of State Legislatures, told lawmakers that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that to prevent out-of-state companies from diverting too much of its water supply, a state must manage its own residents' water use.

Morandi said he does not foresee an immediate need for the type of controls used in the western U.S. But he did note that some states like Pennsylvania and Virginia have enacted water-use management laws. In Pennsylvania, those who use 300,000 gallons or more each month must register with the state, although use is not limited now.

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Given recent flooding in the state, the idea that West Virginia will ever have a water shortage may seem far-fetched. But without any management law, state Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, and others fear that at some future time a company outside the state might draw significant amounts of the water supply without any permit being required.

The importance of water management was underscored last summer when the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin issued a report saying that in the event of a drought in 2030, upstream development could leave the Washington, D.C., area without any water.

In December of last year, The Herald-Mail called for development of a multi-state water use plan like the one eyed by the City of Frederick. That plan sought a 50-year model for water use in the Monocacy River watershed.

Elements of a regional plan should also include a look at creation of additional reservoirs and water conservation, which some areas do well, while others do nothing at all. And as Sen. Unger has noted, doing nothing is not a real option.

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