I was glad to read in Lisa Sorg's article in the Independent ( www.indyweek.com/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid%3A168911 ) a couple of weeks ago that OWASA is contemplating emergency back-up plans for providing water to Chapel Hill and Carrboro. But I was concerned to read that one of the options under consideration is the construction of a new water-intake at Jordan Lake.
While we all hope that the drought will break before we run out of water, it is only prudent to consider what our back-up plans will be. Even with more drastic mandatory conservation measures on the way next week ( http://owasa.org/Press_Releases/press_release_20080218.pdf ), it is possible (but not likely) that our water supply could run out.
OWASA apparently has several options under consideration ( http://www.owasa.org/agenda/UploadedFiles/2008/Parts%2001-24-2008/Item%207.pdf ):
"Buy Water from Neighboring Communities – OWASA’s drinking water system is interconnected with water lines from Durham, Hillsborough, and Chatham County. These connections have the combined capacity to provide our community with up to 8 million gallons per day (mgd) of treated drinking water, but volumes in this range will not likely be available during the drought.
"Highly Treated Reclaimed Wastewater (RCW) – We are currently producing high quality wastewater that meets the regulatory requirements for non-potable (non-drinking) reclaimed water uses, but a permanent reclaimed water system (now under construction) to provide approximately 0.6 mgd to UNC chiller plants will not be completed until the spring of 2009. A temporary reclaimed water line to the UNC campus is feasible, but would be very expensive, and could not supply enough water to offset the worst-case drought scenario. As an option of last resort, a larger (temporary) line could pump greater volumes of RCW back to University Lake, but this is not preferred.
"Drill Wells and Use Ground Water – The amount of water available from wells in our region is highly variable and unpredictable. It is unlikely that we could get more than 1 mgd from a series of many new wells – not nearly enough to prevent running out of water."Jordan Lake – Jordan Lake has been more drought-resistant than local reservoirs with smaller watersheds. Although OWASA holds a storage allocation to use 5 mgd of Jordan Lake water, no facilities, such as an intake, pumps, or pipelines currently exist, and no contractual agreements are in place with other utilities to provide access to our Jordan Lake water. It is important that OWASA and others work together to ensure that this valuable regional resource is shared equitably and efficiently in the future.
"Haw River – It appears to be feasible to install a temporary pipeline to pump Haw River water from a location in southwestern Orange County directly to the Cane Creek Reservoir. Although very expensive, this option appears to be the most feasible way to prevent running out of water."Financial Incentives for Increased Conservation – Incentive programs, such as cash rebates for replacing older less water-efficient plumbing fixtures, represent potential near-term water savings of less than 1 mgd and could not be implemented quickly enough to achieve significant water reductions; nor could this option overcome the worst case of running out of water. However, conservation will continue to be an important component of our water supply plans."
I am particularly concerned about the Jordan Lake option for several reasons:
1. Our community has been working toward the goal of growing within the means possible using the Cane Creek Reservoir, University Lake and the Stone Quarry. Our commitment to live within our means is (or should be) a model for other communities across North Carolina. By contrast, the Piedmont-Triad Regional Water Authority is looking to grow and grow as much as possible potentially drawing still more water from water sources that are over 50 miles away, all in the name of continuing the most unsustainable sort of sprawling, suburban, automobile oriented development. If we go to Jordan Lake, the temptation to grow by leaps and bounds in the OWASA service area will be increased. And the example we will be setting for North Carolina is just more of the same.
2. Worse yet, as I understand it, if we develop a new in-take on Jordan Lake it will have to be done in conjunction with neighboring jurisdictions whose growth has recently been unrestrainedly automobile oriented. Several area local governments have taken steps toward a more planned-growth model (placing a higher emphasis on walkability and transit-orientation). But until our neighbors are exercising the kind of self-restraint that Orange County has been pursuing (and do so in a legally binding way through joint planning agreements), it doesn't seem wise to me to give those local governments still more access to drinking water.
3. On top of everything else, the quality of water from our present supply is distinctly higher than the water in Jordan Lake. While working to make Jordan Lake cleaner is a priority for our local governments, the University Lake and the Cane Creek watersheds are highly protected aleady. Why would we want to permanently throw Jordan Lake water into the mix?
I wouldn't completely rule out Jordan Lake forever, but I think we need to see our neighbors commit to a less car oriented form of development for the future before we collaborate on tapping into Jordan Lake. Until then, I hope we'll take Jordan Lake off the table.