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HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. --
The next time a controversial water supply issue arises on the Catawba River, one bi-state group will be ready.
The Catawba-Wateree River Basin Advisory Commission on July 27 formally adopted a set of rules for how it will evaluate water supply proposals. The group also outlined its role in such instances, reaffirming its place as an advisory not regulatory body.
“There’s a fine line there, but I think clearly we’d be able to convey our satisfaction or lack thereof,” said Chairman Rick Lee.
Commissioner Mark Hollis with Duke Energy led a group to craft the guidelines, with an earlier version receiving preliminary approval in March. The commission includes elected officials, utilities, environmental groups and citizens from North and South Carolinas throughout the basin. Bringing all those opinions together on water supply issues is needed, members said. The group will not be “voting approval or disapproval” of projects, Hollis said.
“This group is an advisory group,” he said. “We would be able to advise on these issues. We would leave that decision to the regulatory agencies.”
The issue came to the forefront at a fall meeting when parties for and against a proposed $50 million Van Wyck reservoir pleaded their cases. Commissioners realized personal opinions, often shaped by where a commissioner might be along the river, could become the default position without clear criteria.
That criteria now includes Duke Energy’s hydroelectric relicensing agreement and drought response planning, the settlement agreement reached between North and South Carolina following a federal interbasin transfer dispute and water withdrawal regulations in both states, among others.
Commission members may still petition regulatory groups individually or on behalf of the groups they represent on the commission, but not on behalf of the commission itself.
“You don’t get a group like this without getting a lot of activists,” Lee said.
Experts say water supply issues, such as interbasin transfers and new reservoirs, could become more common in coming years. This spring, Fort Mill steered away from plans to build a new water treatment plant after Tega Cay announced it would purchase water from Rock Hill, while York announced a 20-year water purchase agreement with Rock Hill citing an unreliable source in Lake Caldwell.
Increasing area populations have and will further strain finite water sources, experts say.
One matter not included in the new guidelines likely to become a major issue is water quality. Commissioners plan to have draft proposal similar to the water quantity guidelines when they reconvene in October.
“It has been with quantity in the past,” Lee said of the group’s focus. “Water quality certainly would be appropriate.”
Peter Raabe with environmental nonprofit American Rivers described vast measures undertaken by several states to preserve their water supply, but said most states made those decisions as a last resort.
“The communities that are doing this well are doing it because they had to,” he said. “We should never get in that position.”
Improving water quality is a sensible goal for both states sharing the Catawba, commissioners say. Especially locally, said Commissioner Smith “Smitty” Hanks, also chairman of the Lake Wylie Marine Commission.
“Specifically Lake Wylie is dependent on both states,” he said.