By Debbie Adams based on information from the WVWA website and Sarah Baumgardner, Director of Public Relations for the Authority
On July 1, 2022, the Town of Vinton will transfer ownership and operation of the Vinton Water and Wastewater System to the Western Virginia Water Authority (the Authority).
This is foreseen as a mutually beneficial arrangement which, according to the town and the Authority, will “provide better rate stability, drought protection, infrastructure planning, and maintenance for all Authority customers. The Authority’s footprint across multiple jurisdictions supports economic development in the entire valley through high quality and quantity of water, sewage treatment capacity, and competitive rate structures. Customers in the Town of Vinton will receive a high level of service and an investment in water supply, treatment, and delivery that is more readily available on the larger scale the Authority can offer.”
While most people know something of the role of the Authority and see vehicles bearing its logo multiple times each day, most are not familiar with the story behind its development.
On July 1, 2004, the separate water and wastewater operations of the City of Roanoke and Roanoke County consolidated to become the Western Virginia Water Authority. It was the first authority in the Commonwealth formed from two existing entities to treat, deliver, and administer water and wastewater.
According to Sarah Baumgardner, Director of Public Relations for the Authority, prior to 2004, each of the four separate governments in the Roanoke Valley – Roanoke County, the Cities of Roanoke and Salem, and the Town of Vinton – had its own water supply agency. There had been discussions and negotiations for the governments to join to form one water agency, which were ultimately futile.
“A series of political and severe climatic events, starting in 2002, finally compelled the two largest governments, the City of Roanoke and Roanoke County, to come together to form one agency, the Western Virginia Water Authority,” Baumgardner explains.
The water supply controversy in the valley dates back to the 1960s but “escalated in the early 1980s when Roanoke County planned the construction of a larger roller compacted concrete (RCC) dam for off stream storage of water from the Roanoke River; however, just prior to construction, the City of Roanoke withdrew from the agreement,” Baumgardner says. “Roanoke County elected to proceed with the dam construction, but the subsequent debt service spread over fewer ratepayers resulted in significant rate increases for county residents. Needless to say, there were heated discussions of the situation throughout the community.
“Then, in 2002, the valley experienced a severe drought. Coincidentally, the City of Roanoke’s water supply was reduced by almost 30% during this time as the city’s groundwater supply system at Crystal Spring was off-line during construction of its new treatment plant. Carvins Cove, the City of Roanoke’s other primary water supply, began to drop fast and reached historic lows. This led to mandatory water restrictions in the city.
“In the surrounding Roanoke County, the Spring Hollow Reservoir was full, and no mandatory or voluntary water restrictions were ever needed,” Baumgardner continued. “The heated dialogue in the valley started to reverse as higher water rates in Roanoke County now looked attractive since supply was adequate. Because of the City of Roanoke decision in the early 1990s to withdraw from the Spring Hollow project, adequate water interconnects were not built, and Roanoke County was limited in its ability to provide water to the City of Roanoke.”
At this point in the drought, Baumgardner says the city and county laid out a plan to combine water resources in the valley “to mitigate risk to everyone.” The result of that plan was the regional Western Virginia Water Authority, which has “off-stream storage, groundwater supply, and watershed storage so that the collective valley community can better withstand water shortages.”
Baumgardner notes that water supply is a major issue confronting localities across the nation, often leading to “bitter feelings and mistrust between government entities. This story is not unique to Roanoke. What is unique is that the Roanoke area, confronted with a crisis, overcame animosities to establish a regional water system for the benefit of all residents.”
The formation of the Western Virginia Water Authority in 2004 was preceded by two years of planning for the utility departments of both jurisdictions to consolidate their operations on July 1, 2004. The following timeline outlines the comprehensive steps taken to arrive at that point and beyond:
- In the summer and fall of 2002, county and city staff held monthly meetings to outline an initial planning phase.
- On February 27, 2003, the Roanoke City Council and the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors voted to authorize and direct their staffs to jointly plan and create a regional water and wastewater authority. From that date forward, employees from both jurisdictions worked in 22 teams to consolidate utility operations.
- In the fall of 2003, community meetings were held in the City of Roanoke and Roanoke County to receive public input on the Water Authority.
- In late 2003, seven individuals were selected to serve on the Water Authority board by the governing bodies of Roanoke County and the City of Roanoke. Roanoke County and City of Roanoke governing bodies each selected three board members. The seventh was selected by the six board members and confirmed by the Roanoke City Council and the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors. The original board consisted of Supervisor Michael Altizer, the first Authority board chair, and Councilman Rupert Cutler, who were selected to serve two-year terms. Two administrators, City Manager Darlene Burcham and County Administrator Elmer Hodge, were selected to serve three-year terms. County resident H. Odell “Fuzzy” Minnix and city resident Robert Lawson were selected to serve four-year terms. The seventh member selected was George Logan of Salem.
- In early 2004, both jurisdictions formally approved the formation of the Water Authority.
- On March 2, 2004, the Commonwealth of Virginia bestowed the state Articles of Incorporation to the Water Authority.
- On July 1, 2004, the Western Virginia Water Authority became operational and from that point it continued to expand.
- On November 24, 2009, the State Corporation Commission issued a Certificate of Restatement, amending and restating the Articles of Incorporation of the Western Virginia Water Authority. With this action, Franklin County became an official member of the Water Authority.
- On July 1, 2015, the State Corporation Commission granted Botetourt County official membership in the Water Authority.
- In December 2021, Vinton Town Council approved a Resolution of Intent to have formal discussions with the Western Virginia Water Authority Board of Directors regarding the Authority’s ownership and operation of the town’s utility system. Discussions to finalize this acquisition will take place over the next several months, and it is anticipated that all parties will officially approve this proposal by July 1, 2022, to provide the best long-term rate and infrastructure stability, service, and water quality for current and future customers of both the town and the Authority.
The Authority currently provides water service to over 64,000 customer accounts and wastewater service for more than 57,000 accounts in the City of Roanoke, Roanoke County, Franklin County and Botetourt County. The Authority also contracts to operate the water and wastewater systems for the Town of Fincastle. Once the Authority takes on Vinton customers, their customer base will increase by approximately 5,200 more customers.
For more information about the Western Virginia Water Authority, visit https://www.westernvawater.org/home.
For more information on the transfer of utility services from the Town of Vinton to the Western Virginia Water Authority, visit www.westernvawater.org/vinton.