Beech Mountain water intake up for discussion
by Kellen Short
Watauga County commissioners will consider Tuesday whether to provide a resolution supporting a Watauga River reclassification that would allow Beech Mountain to continue plans for a water intake.
The town of Beech Mountain has been planning for at least two years for an intake near Guy Ford Road in Sugar Grove to help provide the town with water during periods of significant drought.
For the project to move forward, Watauga County commissioners would have to support the reclassification of part of the watershed to a Water Supply IV designation.
Although that designation is not yet needed from commissioners, Beech Mountain does need a resolution indicating support now to continue planning with state agencies.
The area affected by the reclassification would include 30,366 acres, or about 15 percent of the county's land area, according to county staff.
The WS-IV designation that Beech Mountain has proposed is the least restrictive and requires lots within the area to be at least 1/2 acre. This would represent no change for area residents, as Watauga County's subdivision ordinance currently requires the same lot size.
A portion of the watershed is currently designated High Quality Waters by the state, requiring one-acre lots in new developments, according to county staff.
Lots existing prior to the new watershed regulation's effective date would be grandfathered, according to county staff.
Many more steps must be completed by Beech Mountain and the state before the intake could be approved and constructed, but it will not progress without county support, according to a memo to commissioners.
Beech Mountain Town Manager Randy Feierabend said in a letter to commissioners Oct. 15 that the intake is "critical to the future viability of Beech Mountain," providing photos showing the town's Buckeye Lake reservoir at very low water levels during the 2010 drought.
The need for a supplemental intake aside from Buckeye Creek is intensified by the town's potential for growth, Beech Mountain Utilities Director Robert Heaton said in a letter to the county. As of 2010, there were 5,434 lots in Beech Mountain and only about a third contained structures, he said.
"This potential for growth differentiates Beech Mountain from many of the other municipalities in Watauga County, which are at or near build-out capacity and will experience more measured growth in the future," Heaton wrote. "Although growth has occurred more slowly in recent years, the town of Beech Mountain has an abundance of subdivided building lots that are primed for construction."
Feierabend that the town has "investigated and exhausted all other alternatives to an intake on the Watauga River, and we have determined this to be our best (and only) realistic option."
Other options included installing a pump station on Pond Creek, raising the Buckeye Lake dam, drilling wells or connecting with Banner Elk's water supply.
The town expects to draw up to two million gallons per day from the site -- but intends to do so only when the reservoir falls below its normal water level, according to information provided to the county.
If constructed, the intake would include no visible physical structure in the river but would included a pump house on the riverside. A raw water line would run along the shoulder of the road with two or three booster pump stations to overcome the elevation difference.
The process is similar to the one Watauga County used when reclassifying a portion of the New River as part of Boone's planned water intake.
At Tuesday's meeting, the Board of Commissioners could adopt the resolution or schedule a public hearing or work session.
The meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Commissioners' Board Room at 814 W. King St., Boone. Visit WataugaCounty.org for the full meeting agenda and materials.