Life of Catawba River expected to get extended

jmarks@lakewyliepilot.comMarch 28, 2014 

— 2048 may not be such a dry year after all.

Since stakeholders signed Duke Energy’s federal hydroelectric re-licensing agreement a half dozen years ago, water experts in the Catawba River basin have been working to extend the river’s yield. Efforts have been based on an estimation that by 2048, more water will be required of the Catawba than it holds.

Barry Gullet, director of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities, said a new report expected “this spring or early summer” will paint a rosier picture.

“If we do good planning during the next several years, we believe we can push that out at least another 50 years, out into the next century,” Gullet said.

Gullet’s group is one of 19 members, mostly municipal water providers, of the Catawba-Wateree Water Management Group. The group formed as a result of Duke’s re-licensing effort and began meeting in December 2007. North and South Carolina joined Duke and the municipal members to fund it.

A $1.3 million study will show ways to conserve water, along with contingency planning and interconnections in case of drought or other emergencies.

“We’ve looked at sedimentation, we’ve looked at water quality, we’ve looked at supply issues and demand issues,” said group member Jimmy Bagley, Rock Hill deputy city manager.

The main cause for optimism is the group’s commitment to regional water planning. All the groups that use water on the Catawba agreed to join the group. All pay annual dues. Part of Duke’s re-licensing includes rules municipalities can put in place during drought.

Jeff Lineberger has 24 years experience at Duke, almost entirely dealing with lake or basin issues. He headed up Duke’s re-licensing effort, which included dozens of municipal and private stakeholders and was needed for the company to operate power plants along the river. Lineberger said in the past, water users “kind of looked at it as we’re competing” for water.

“It’s not like that anymore,” he said.

N.C. Sen. Dan Clodfelter told members of the Catawba-Wateree River Basin Advisory Commission at its March 21 meeting in Rock Hill that the public needs to know what the new study finds.

“They’ve still got that number in their head,” Clodfelter said of the 2048 projection.

The public also may be responsible for improvements. Past water management group proposals include working low water use toilets or sinks into municipal building codes, among other ideas.

The water management group operates on a $550,000 a year budget and has bylaws stating it can’t spend money it hasn’t collected. A new five-year operating plan will be developed next. The upcoming phase will look at implementing what the study outlines and digging deeper into water quality.

“The second phase will probably require some type of outside funding,” Gullet said.

Members are encouraged by the continued support from water providers in the basin.

“The feeling that we’re all working to a common goal is increasing,” Gullet said.

John Marks •  803-831-8166

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