Catawba River water request not expected to stir new war

jmarks@lakewyliepilot.comOctober 16, 2012 

— Catawba River water could soon be headed to a new community outside its basin, but experts say the impact shouldn’t stir concerns of past transfer requests.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities wants to draw water north of Lake Wylie to be sent to the Goose Creek watershed in Mecklenburg County. The utility already draws water for use in the Rocky River subbasin. The Goose Creek route would be part of that certificate, so it would not be a new interbasin transfer.

“We are not asking to increase our (interbasin transfer) amount,” said Barry Gullet, director with CMU, during Friday’s quarterly meeting of the Catawba/Wateree River Basin Advisory Commission at McGuire Nuclear Station. “We plan to absorb that amount into the 33 million gallons per day already approved.”

The utility received permission in 2002 to draw up to 33 million gallons of water per day from the Catawba to meet needs in the Rocky River subbasin through 2030. A condition in that certificate states water can’t be sent to Goose Creek, which serves Mint Hill, until impact studies on the endangered Carolina Heelsplitter are performed. Now, the utility wants to lift that restriction, pending efforts to ensure the species is protected. The Mint Hill area – accounting for about 5 percent of total land within Mecklenburg County – isn’t expected to be a high water use area.

Tom Reeder, director of the North Carolina Division of Water Resources, said because Mecklenburg County is located within multiple sub basins, Gullet “has to operate an IBT on a daily basis.”

Last year, an average of 13.11 million gallons per day was drawn of the possible 33 million gallons. The most transferred on any day was 18.82 million gallons. Because water used in the Goose Creek area returns downstream to the Catawba system, only a small amount is lost and considered an interbasin transfer. Gullet said that number could be as small as 200,000 gallons per day.

N.C. Rep. Mitch Gillespie said he’s “comfortable with what’s taking place” as long as information about the plan is shared throughout the basin.

“It’ll save us a lot of phone calls,” he said.

IBT debate

Interbasin transfers sparked debate throughout the Catawba River basin in 2005 when Concord and Kannapolis in North Carolina applied to withdraw water from the Catawba north of Lake Wylie for transfer to the Rocky River basin. In 2007, the North Carolina Environmental Management Commission approved up to 10 million gallons per day.

Although much less than requested, it stirred protest and led to legal challenges.

Part of the concern was because interested groups weren’t informed in time to participate in the decision process.

“It’s important that we talk about it,” Gullet said of the latest plan.

The Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation and several communities filed a challenge of North Carolina’s decision, which wasn’t resolved until 2009.

A final decision allowed only 3 million gallons per day until July 1, 2015, and no water after that until the cities are pumping an additional 5 million gallons per day from the Yadkin basin. The North Carolina cities also are bound by strict drought response measures on the Catawba.

In late 2010, the Carolinas came to a resolution on a U.S. Supreme Court case where South Carolina sued North Carolina over use of the river.

The Concord and Kannapolis interbasin transfer sat at the heart of that case. The states agreed to use Duke Energy’s water-use modeling system to meet the needs of both states.

That resolution also dealt with how North Carolina would maintain amounts of water flowing into South Carolina, which is another reason why the latest plan may not be so hotly contested.

“As long as that’s still adhered to, South Carolina doesn’t have to worry about what’s coming across the line,” said S.C. Sen. Wes Hayes.

“We still need to make sure everyone’s aware of what’s going on.”

The latest plan still needs environmental assessment from the utility, several state approvals and a public hearing in the Catawba basin through next spring. The earliest a change could be implemented would be summer.

“These dates are best case scenarios,” Reeder said.

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