April 30, 2003

Delaware was the last to impose water-use restrictions to deal with the drought that hit the Mid-Atlantic states last summer and the first to lift them. But Governor Ruth Ann Minner said that is not good enough.

She announced a comprehensive program to expand northern New Castle County's water supply to a point where the area is self-sufficient in that regard by 2010, if not sooner. That can be accomplished, she said, without the need to build a new reservoir, although she disclosed that Delaware Department of Transportation is in the process of buying Bread and Cheese Island, near Newport, to provide a site of one if and when that becomes necessary.

In the more immediate future, she said at a media event held below the dam which forms Hoopes Reservoir near Greenville on Apr. 30, steps are being taken to increase the amount of stored water to 2.1 billion gallons by the end of 2003, up from 1.3 billion in 1999. New capacity includes the 317 million

The water level in picturesque Hoopes Reservoir will be raised two to three feet to significantly increase its capacity from the present 1.8 billion gallons. Governor Ruth Ann Minner and Representative Wayne Smith await the media event at which that was announced in at the base of Hoopes dam and its 217 foot spillway.

gallon reservoir being built by the city of Newark and 500 million gallons made available by technology which makes it possible to use water taken from Hoopes to within two feet of the bottom.

Eventually, the water level in Hoopes is to be raised two to three feet, at a cost of about $4.5 million. That will add about 203 million gallons of additional capacity without damage to roads or private property, according to Kevin Donnelly, director of the water resources division of the Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control.

The reservoir, built in the early 1930s on a tributary of Red Clay Creek in Christiana Hundred, is owned by the city of Wilmington and administered by the Department of  Public Works as successor to the old Water Department.

State senator Margaret Rose Henry and representative Wayne Smith said they will introduce legislation in early May to require municipalities and profit-making water companies to establish 'conservation rates' and to demonstrate at least every three years their ability to meet customer demand under drought conditions. By 2010, their supply must be independent of out-of-state sources.

'Conservation rates' -- incremental increases in rates as the quantity of water used increases -- are common in western states but their application here will make Delaware a leader in that regard among states east of the Mississippi River, Smith said.

The proposed legislation largely implements a plan which Smith put forward during last year's drought. The actual bill is not yet available on the General Assembly Web site although its number, House Bill 118, has been reserved. Smith described it as as a matter of working "across [political] party lines to deal with a critical issue." He is the Republican majority leader in the House of Representatives; Minner and Henry are Democrats.

Minner not only endorsed the legislation but spoke of its prompt enactment by the General Assembly as a sure thing.

In conjunction with the measure, she said she is establihsing a $600,000 program of grants and low-cost loans to assist households to repair leaky plumbing and replace failed domestic wells.

Separate legislation will make permanent the public-private Water Supply Coordinating Council, which is presently due to go out of existence at the end of 2003, and extend its activities to include the part of the state south of the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal.

The council was credited for developing thee program the governor announced.

Minner said that, when rains came last autumn putting an end to drought conditions, said to be of a severity that would be expected to occur once in 100 years, she vowed not to forget the emergency and to follow through with steps to assure that "we'll never [again] have to ask the residents of New Castle County to endure the severe restrictive measures we needed last year."

2003. All rights reserved.

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