OWASA, Durham, & Chatham County have agreed to jointly explore the possibility of installing a water intake on the west shore of Jordan Lake where OWASA owns property. Our local Orange County governments have some misgivings about the project and these were discussed at the Orange County Assembly of Governments meeting last night, which was also attended by Durham Mayor Bill Bell and Chatham County Commission Chair George Lucier. The following is a statement that I prepared for presentation at that meeting. (I actually ended up talking off the cuff to avoid repeating points that others had previously made.)Statment on proposed Jordan Lake intake: It seems that the decision to enter into a joint evaluation of using Jordan Lake water may be driven more by the perceived needs of Durham and Chatham County than by our’s. We certainly want to be good neighbors, but we should be very careful. We are dealing with complicated issues that affect growth in our region and rely on our understanding of the carrying capacity of our watersheds. Before we move much closer toward a regional water agreement, we need to carefully consider several aspects of our situation.First, we have set the standard for protecting our local watershed through intelligent zoning and acquiring land and easements around our reservoirs. We have set the standard for conservation by partnering with UNC on the water re-use project, by becoming the first municipality to implement year-round water conservation measures, and by adopting a tiered rate structure that will result in reduced water use. We were pro-active in the wake of the great drought of 2001-2002 and set ourselves on a more sustainable course. It was not until this current drought that our neighbors seemed to discover the water conservation strategies that we adopted two droughts ago. We have a well-thought out plan that will greatly increase our available water supply in 2030 when the expanded quarry becomes available. Water use projections reveal that there will be a period of time – maybe 5 years give or take a few – before the quarry is available that we may need additional supply. In 2005, after more than two years of focusing on water conservation as a result of the 2001-2002 drought, the OWASA Board had extensive discussions on the feasibility of meeting our needs during those vulnerable years through conservation and efficiency rather than going to Jordan Lake. We were well aware of the problems that going to Jordan Lake would bring – great expense, possible disruption of communities along the pipeline route, a lower quality of water, possible compromises involving local OWASA control over our resources and costs – all of the same problems that we face now. Except that now we have an additional dilemma. We could find ourselves in the position of, with the best intentions to help our neighbors, enabling the type of uncontrolled growth in this region that we have worked so hard to consciously avoid.Consider this excerpt from Durham’s Resolution 9532 in which they signified their intent to pursue a joint agreement with OWASA and Chatham County to access Jordan Lake:“Whereas, the local government jurisdictions in the Research Triangle Region have responsible and thoughtful land use plans to accommodate the projected growth of our region;”We should pause and give thorough consideration to that assumption. It seems to me that it may be overstating the case for the status quo. In some ways it is a troubling contention. We should certainly have a healthy debate amongst ourselves before we join a venture that holds that assumption and will fuel more growth based on that assumption.In fact, Chatham County’s planning appears to contradict that assumption. Chatham County officials reported that they have approved 1200 new homes for which they don’t have adequate water supplies.Here is the “Water Conservation Goal” that the OWASA Board adopted in April 2005: “To develop, fund, and implement a cost-effective water conservation and demand management program that will meet our community’s long-term water supply needs (through 2050) by making the highest and best use of our local water resources and eliminating the need for costly new water supply sources and facilities” We had good reason then to think that we could institute conservation and efficiency measures that would bring our demand down below risky levels of consumption just before the quarry became available. We still have good reason to believe we can meet our needs without going out of our watershed in pursuit of expensive options with their own set of risks.We have great opportunities to improve efficiency and increase conservation techniques. The expansion of the water re-use system holds great promise. The collection and use of storm water represents a large mostly untapped supply. And we can continue to fix leaks and reduce waste. There is no doubt in my mind that we can meet our needs with these approaches.The final aspect of this issue is in some ways the most important. We have, in OWASA, a jewel of a utility. I believe it is as good and progressive a utility as any in the country. It has been a leader in everything from water conservation practices to granting employees paternity leave. I believe it can continue to be a very important leader in the future as other municipalities look for models in what we have every reason to expect will be an increasingly challenging future. We need an autonomous OWASA to protect our watersheds, provide some of the cleanest water in the state, protect the environment through excellent wastewater treatment practices, and look out for the pocketbooks of ratepayers.I think that we risk a lot by stepping onto the slippery slope that could lead to a regional water utility that will certainly not meet the standards that OWASA achieves. Also bear in mind that these other utilities are revenue producing for their governments whereas OWASA is a separate entity. They have other pressures to sell water, pressures that work against a sustainable future.I think we should declare our independence from this process. At the very least we should delay any joint exploration until we answer questions amongst ourselves such as:"Do we have an obligation to unconditionally help neighbors who get in a bind because they didn't proactively conserve?""Shouldn't we use the situation to leverage water conservation across the region?"“Do we really believe that local governments in the Triangle have responsible and thoughtful land use plans?”Tough questions, but a lot is at stake.