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Originally published: 2013-10-11 09:23:15
Last modified: 2013-10-11 09:24:00

County explains need for old WHS water

Watauga County is asking the town of Boone to continue reserving water for the former high school property amid confusion about how the county should have estimated the expected need.

In March 2011, the Town Council set aside 70,000 gallons-per-day for the 74-acre property, later increasing that reserve to 150,000 gpd in an effort to help sell the land.

The county has requested an extension of that reserve past the Dec. 31, 2013, expiration as it continues to seek a buyer for the property.

At the Boone Water Use Committee meeting Sept. 25, members questioned how the county computed its original gallon-per-day request. Committee member Patrick Beville said his discussions with county staff indicated that the county may not have calculated the predicted water usage properly, at 60 percent of the N.C. Department of Environmental and Natural Resources' discharge rate schedule.

The DENR rate schedule offers typical usage rates for various types of land uses.

In interviews this week, County Manager Deron Geouque and Planning and Inspections Director Joe Furman said the county's original request -- for 200,000 gallons per day -- was based on the typical usage rates outlined in the Boone Water & Sewer Ordinance.

Furman said he and former County Manager Rocky Nelson estimated the need for the property with a "significant build-out," or a relatively full development. He said he then used the table in the Boone Water & Sewer ordinance to reach the water estimate.

The county estimated a developer would want approximately 800 bedrooms of multi-family residential housing (120,000 gpd), along with 750,000 square feet of retail space (54,000 gpd), Furman said in an email. He then rounded up to 200,000 gpd in case restaurants were included in a developer's plan.

Geouque said the numbers are mere estimates, and said potential developers have told him they probably would need 150,000 gpd or more for the property.

"I don't think the developers will be able to give a concrete figure until they actually know what the town will allow them to build on the property," he said.

Boone Public Utilities Director Rick Miller said the Boone Water & Sewer Ordinance on which the county's estimate was based is equal to 60 percent of DENR's rate schedule -- as the rate schedule appeared in the 1980s when Boone first passed the ordinance.

A comparison of the most recent DENR rate schedule, from 2006, and Boone's ordinance shows that while some of the town's rates are still equal to 60 percent of the modern DENR schedule, some are not.

Miller said his office has not been instructed to change the Boone ordinance to coordinate with updated DENR rates. But he said he thinks the Boone ordinance is still an accurate estimate of actual water usage.

"I think it's pretty realistic, what we've got," Miller said.

Geouque said earlier this week he was drafting a letter to the town to explain the calculations.

The Water Use Committee will likely meet in November to discuss the allocation and other matters, but a meeting date will not be set until next week's Town Council meetings, Miller said.