Water intake facility still causes controversy

James HowellStaff

November 1, 2012

Progress for the Watauga County water intake facility on the New River remains at a standstill after opposition from the Ashe County Board of Commissioners.

“The project is moving forward, but at a very slow pace,” said George Santucci, the executive director from the National Committee for the New River (NCNR).

The four million gallon-per-day water intake facility is planned to be located on a 10-acre site on the South Fork of the New River between Todd and Brownwood in Watauga County. Water is planned to be transported to Boone’s water treatment plan using a transmission line that will follow along Brownwood Road.

The 10-acre property was purchased by the town of Boone and crosses the Ashe County line, which Boone is allowed to do. Until recently, the Ashe County Board of Commissioners believed it had no jurisdiction over the project. However, the commissioners learned they could have a role in the project.

A 2009 environmental assessment map for the water intake project indicates that a water transmission line crosses the into Ashe County.

According to Ashe County Manager Dr. Pat Mitchell, the board of commissioners refused to sign federal floodplain documents for the project in response to the transmission line crossing into Ashe County.

Mitchell said the change in the floodplain could hurt property owners who reside in Ashe County.

“The Board of Commissioners will not sign the MT-2 form for the above-referenced project and are opposed to having any portion of the project located in our political jurisdiction,” said Mitchell in a letter sent to Steve Garrett of the N.C. Department of Public Safety on Sept. 24.

According to Mitchell, there is no scientific data that confirms cycling water through a water treatment facility has a negative impact on the river. Santucci agreed with Mitchell and also said there is no evidence to support the claims that Watauga County’s water intake facility would cause a reduction of water in the New River. Due to the water treatment facility cycling water back into the river, water levels will remain constant.

“Watauga is doing really interesting things with their water conservation efforts,” said Santucci. “They have a person on staff solely for water conservation, something other counties in the area don’t have.”

According to a document from the New River Project, “more than 99 percent of Boone’s withdrawn water is being put back in after going through Boone’s advanced wastewater treatment facility. That water contains fewer impurities than when it was taken out.”

According to the same document, the oxygen levels downstream from the discharge area are higher than those upstream from the existing intake site. Also, the pH levels downstream indicate the water is less acidic after returning from the intake site and the clarity (turbidity) of the water is better downstream from the discharge area than upstream.

Santucci said Boone’s increased need for water is based on the town’s rapid population growth.

In 2004, a study revealed that Boone is rapidly approaching maximum capacity from its exiting water sources. In 2005, the town began a water conservation program, asking people to voluntarily conserve water.

According to the New River Project, when a water system reaches 80 percent of capacity, the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources recommends a plan for expansion. When the system reaches 90 percent, the state recommends the expansion be under construction. If not underway, the state could impose a moratorium on new water hookups. Boone crossed the 80 percent mark in 2006.

Additionally, Boone’s population is projected to almost double over the next 50 years, according to The New River Project. The population increase will put an even greater strain on Boone’s water supply.