OWASA Board Responds to Carrboro and Chapel Hill

When the Carrboro Board of Aldermen voted on March 1 against a request by OWASA to amend the Water and Sewer Management, Planning and Boundary Agreement (WSMPBA) -- and the Chapel Hill Town Council followed suit on April 25 -- the local water and sewer utility found itself in need of a compromise or a new strategy.

The WSMPBA is an agreement between OWASA, the county, and the towns to define service areas and facilitate long-term planning. The requested amendment to the agreement would secure more direct access to OWASA's allocation of water from Jordan Lake, including access for nonemergency uses. The towns objected, in part, to the prospect of using the Jordan Lake allocation before a water supply shortage has been declared.

OWASA's response came Friday in a memo to Mayors Chilton and Kleinschmidt from Gordon Merklein, chair of the OWASA Board of Directors. Included with the memo was a draft resolution that Merklein says OWASA will consider. The draft resolution would make it OWASA policy that use of water from Jordan Lake or water from other communities would occur only during a declared stage 1 water shortage.

A few striking features of OWASA's memo and draft resolution:
  • The OWASA directors have not altered their previous request. Instead, they reiterate the request and ask the towns to reconsider their decisions. Only if the towns agree to the request would OWASA adopt a policy not to access water from Jordan Lake and other communities except during a declared shortage.
  • The resolution warns that OWASA may withdraw from the WSMPBA if the towns do not agree to the requested amendment.
  • The resolution characterizes the towns’ objections to the requested amendment as an opinion "that some local elected officials have expressed" (an odd way to describe the official positions of the towns' governing bodies).
During their regular meeting tonight, the Carrboro aldermen will discuss OWASA's water supply projections and interests in Jordan Lake. Members of the Chapel Hill Town Council and the Chapel Hill appointees to the OWASA Board of Directors will meet on Thursday, May 19.



Somehow this doesn't add up. In previous years OWASA has said it has enough water within our own watershed to get to 2050 without outside (i.e. Jordan) sources. A note on Stage 1 conservation guidelines - the only difference from the normal year-round conservation standards & Stage 1 is a little less watering of grass. So in the very early stages of a possible drought, OWASA will add Jordan Lake water to the mix, thus shielding customers from the real state of their water situation, damping down conservation efforts, and selling more water for revenue. Plus, businesses which use a good bit of water or don't feel inclined to conserve will know that OWASA has its back with this extra water that it can bring in.Then there is the Jordan lake partnership that is teh first step down a slippery slope to a regional utility. OWASA would supply the intake site on Jordan (they own the land) and neighboring jurisdictions that did not plan well for the previous droughts and whose customers did not conserve well like OWASA's did get bailed out with little effort to be more sustainable.  There needs to be an open public discussion on all of these issues, including possible economic development plans that may be involved. There are clues that something bigger than just gaining access to water for emergency times is going on. First of all, they are asking for access during non-emergencies. Secondly, if we need water during an emergency we can get it without having a Jordan Lake allocation.

Transit Oriented Development is advocated by Chapel Hill and Carroboro leaders. High density development and strict water convervation strategies are will mix withsevere drought to create the perfect storm one year. This area is not water rich.OWASA always says yes development proposals. It seems obvious that the more we conserve, the more OWASA says yes to denser and denser development - but there is a point where we can't continue to conserve without pain to each of us. Why are we doing this? Why do we need TOD - more people, more buses, more pollution,  less water - is this the future we want for our communities? Mark is on the money;   there is more than meets the eye and we need more open public discussion on these issues.

It should be pointed out that OWASA does not have guaranteed access to any other water during a drought.  They have had access in the past, but that was because Durham agreed to provide the water.  If Durham is in a severe shortage, they can very easily and understandably say "no."

I'm not voicing an opinion on the issue, just trying to make sure everyone is clear on some of the relevant facts.  If OWASA does not acquire a guaranteed allocation from Jordan, it could potentially face some significant issues in the future.


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