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State Rep. Jonathan Jordan (inset) filed a bill Thursday to block the reclassification of an area upstream of the town of Boone's proposed raw water intake site on the South Fork of the New River — a move that could halt the project altogether.
New River photo by Anna Oakes | Watauga Democrat

Originally published: 2012-06-15 11:28:40
Last modified: 2012-06-15 11:46:13

Bill would kill Boone water project

by Anna Oakes

State Rep. Jonathan Jordan of Jefferson, whose District 93 includes Ashe and Watauga counties, has filed a bill in the N.C. House of Representatives that, if approved, would bring the town of Boone's seven-year-long raw water intake project to a halt.

The town of Boone  plans to build a new 4 million gallon-per-day raw water intake facility on the South Fork of the New River between Todd and Brownwood in Watauga County.

The planned facility includes an intake beneath the river bed and a 30-by-50-foot pump station constructed along the south bank. Water would then be transmitted by water lines to Boone's water treatment plant on Deck Hill Road.

On Thursday, Jordan introduced House Bill 1227, "Disapprove New River Basin Rule:" "an act to disapprove a rule adopted by the Environmental Management Commission and approved by the Rules Review Commission."

The rule refers to a change in the state's classification of an area within 10 miles upstream of the proposed intake site to Water Supply (WS) IV. Sources used for drinking water are classified Water Supply (WS) I through V, with WS-I carrying the most restrictive standards.

The Environmental Management Commission unanimously approved the reclassification on Jan. 12, and the state's Rules Review Commission signed off on the change in February. However, the Rules Review Commission received at least 10 letters objecting to the reclassification, triggering a legislative review. 

If a bill is approved by the General Assembly and enacted into law, the reclassification will not become effective. The reclassification is a key part of the permitting process for the project.

In 2004, a study found that Boone's water usage was approaching maximum capacity from existing sources. The town has been planning for a new water source since 2005, when the council enacted Public Utilities Ordinance 05-01 (now renamed 11-01) establishing a new water allocation process.

In 2006, usage in town exceeded 80 percent of capacity. When a water system reaches 80 percent of capacity, the N.C. Department of Environment & Natural Resources (DENR) recommends a plan for expansion. If expansion is not under construction by the time a water system reaches 90 percent of capacity, the state can impose a moratorium on new water hookups.

In 2008, 73 percent of Boone voters approved a $25 million bond referendum to finance a new water intake, but residents of Todd and other Ashe County locales downstream of the site have vocally opposed the project, questioning the need for the project and findings that the project will not significantly impact the river's flow and quality.

In 2010, the Boone Town Council agreed to a $20.5 million loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to finance the project.

Although water usage in Boone has declined since 2006, town officials say they expect water usage to increase again as the economy recovers.

Speaking at a June 4 Water Use Committee meeting, Carol Coulter of the National Committee for the New River said that Jordan recently told her he was undecided about whether to file a "kill bill" blocking Boone's water intake project.