Boone water issue draws Ashe ire
by Linda Burchette
Twenty-two people spoke, some angrily, and not one was in favor of the proposed water intake system on the New River in Todd. But whether their opinions will make a difference is yet to be seen.
An auditorium nearly full of area residents most from Ashe was the setting Tuesday night at Westwood Elementary School for yet another presentation from the Boone Town Council on this proposed project. Several years in the planning, this project is expected to provide an additional water source to the Town of Boone, which is nearing capacity for water availability.
In a power point presentation, Boone Mayor Loretta Clawson described the situation with the town and the details of the proposed project. She described the extensive research that has gone into the planning, and then the Boone Town Council and Ashe County Board of Commissioners took the stage to hear comments from the audience and answer questions. They were assisted by the Boone town manager, project manager, and Boone town attorney along with Ashe County Manager Dan McMillan and County Attorney John Kilby. The program was facilitated by Chris Robinson, director of the Ashe Campus of Wilkes Community College.
Through all the criticism of Boone for its continued growth and fears of damage to the New River, the citizens were frustrated because they have yet to hear the environmental study and engineering reports on this project. The W.K. Dickson engineering firm from Charlotte, hired to plan the project, is waiting on the reports, which are in the study phase. Once the reports are presented, a 30-day public comment period will be conducted.
When Todd resident Beth Morrison asked each Ashe commissioner to state their opinion on the issue, the board members said they need to wait on the study reports before making a decision. Chairwoman Judy Poe said she is comfortable with the information provided by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and what the countys legal advice has been. Richard Blackburn said the environmental verdict is not yet in and he will wait on results. He also said he is concerned about any adverse affect on Ashe County landowners should the rivers classification be raised or the water level be lowered. Gary Barber said he concurs with Blackburn, that this is a permitting process and Boone is following the process. Larry Rhodes said it is not Ashe Countys place to say yea or nay to this project in another county especially since the study reports are not yet available, but the situation is being monitored by the Ashe board. And Gerald Price put it best when he said, God gave us natural resources to use and not abuse. He wondered why there was not this opposition when the Town of Jefferson built an intake facility on the New River approximately 17 years ago.
Ashe County Manager Dan McMillan said later that as demand increases for water, municipalities will be looking wherever they can for resources, and other towns along the New River may seek intake systems.
The Town of Boone has a Tier 1 rating, meaning that the town has less than a 100 day supply of water. Water supply has been an issue for Boone and surrounding towns for some time and restrictions have been implemented for water conservation and usage.
A 2004 study revealed Boone is rapidly approaching maximum capacity from its existing water sources, and once the system reaches 80 percent capacity (Boone hit this in 2006), the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) recommends a plan for expansion. That expansion must be underway by the time the water system reaches 90 percent capacity (projected for Boone this year), or the state could impose a moratorium on new water hookups.
Boones request for withdrawing water from the proposed facility is for a maximum of 4 million gallons of water per day, although the town seeks to only withdraw 1.5 million in the beginning. By securing approval for a larger intake than needed, the town is planning for future demand. The permitted amount would be in addition to the current 3 million gallons per day Boone is already withdrawing from both Winklers Creek and the New River, for a total from all three intakes of 7 million gallons of water per day.
In 2005, Boone began a water conservation program, asking people to voluntarily conserve water. These efforts have been highly successful, and should inspire Ashe County residents to consider similar efforts before they too face water shortages. Just such a possibility has been mentioned by members of the Ashe County Planning Board.
In a report last year to Ashe officials, Boone Town Manager Greg Young said, We recognize that the New River is a national treasure, so we want to ensure environmental protection. He said an environmental assessment of the site is underway and results are expected by late October at the earliest.
Is this really about Boones water needs or Boones growth? asked several citizens who spoke. That is a question for other towns as well, as growing populations put increased pressure on limited natural resources.
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