Moore County LogoFor years and years, bringing more water to Southern Moore County is the the top task that the Board of Commissioners have set for themselves in their annual retreat.

And for years and years, the preferred option has been to bring that water from Robbins, finding a way to utilize that town's old water plant, or reservoir, or water intake on Bear Creek, to supply the fast-growing Seven Lakes area with a second source of water, while giving Northwest Moore County an economic boost.

The County has made the Town an offer that would get the ball rolling, and the Town has countered, leaving the ball in the County's court. But a recent meeting that included County, Town, and State environmental officials may have changed the rules of the game.


The Robbins Concept

Lately, Moore County Public Works Director Randy Gould has been exploring a two-prong approach to tapping water resources in the Robbins area:

• First, using the existing reservoir and an intake on Bear Creek to feed a new County-owned water plant that would treat up to 1.5 million gallons per day [GPD], with up to 400,000 of that going to Robbins and the rest to southern Moore County via Seven Lakes.

• Second, placing a new run of river intake in the Deep River, north of Robbins, and using that more plentiful source to supply the reservoir and treatment plant, producing up to 3.3 million GPD.

Gould's estimates put a price tag of roughly $15 million on each phase.

 

Little Water Available from Bear Creek

But, under current environmental regulations, Bear Creek can provide only a fraction of the water it once supplied to the Town of Robbins. That was the "bad news" County officials got in a July 31 meeting with a dozen representatives of the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources [NCDENR].

"The bad news is that the availability of water out of Bear Creek is greatly diminished," Commissioner Nick Picerno told The Times. Picerno was joined at the meeting, held in Raleigh, by Commissioner Craig Kennedy, Robbins Mayor Lonnie English, County Manager Cary McSwain, Assistant County Manager Ken Larking, and Gould. NCDENR attendees included representatives of the Division of Water Quality, the Division of Water Resources, and the Public Water Supply Section. Also on hand was State Senator Jerry Tillman, whose reconfigured district includes Moore County.

Gould prepared a summary of the meeting that was available for review at the Tuesday, August 7 meeting of the Board of Commissioners, but Gould's presentation was postponed until a future meeting. As a result, the Board hasn't been formally briefed on the meeting.

The Town of Robbins once held a state permit that would allow it to draw 1.5 million gallons per day from the Bear Creek intake, Picerno explained, "but when they shut down their water plant and quit using that source, the permit went away. We're under a whole new set of rules now."

"The flow rate in Bear Creek would only allow us 50,000 to 60,000 gallons per day," Picerno said. "That is not even a pittance. That's one-eighth of the daily use in Seven Lakes."

Gould told The Times that, without major environmental studies, the state allows the withdrawal of twenty percent of the 7Q10 Low Flow of a stream. "7Q10 Low Flow" is the lowest stream flow over seven consecutive days that would be expected in a ten-year period. For Bear Creek, that's 240,000 GPD, and 20 percent of that is 48,000 gallons.

Because the water flow in any stream would normally be significantly higher than the 7Q10 Low Flow, it is possible to obtain permission from NCDENR to take advantage of periods of high flow, withdrawing larger amounts of water for storage in an off-stream reservoir. Commissioner Kennedy told The Times that this "high-flow skimming" process could produce as much as 200,000 GPD, but that's still a fraction of the 1.5 million GPD the county was hoping for.


It's Deep River or Nothing

That means the two-phase, thirty-year plan Gould envisioned for tapping Northwest Moore water has become a one-phase plan with a much shorter timeframe, and obtaining state authorization to tap the Deep River involves a process that is neither quick nor cheap.

"We got better news about the Deep River," Picerno told The Times. "The sixteen million gallon per day flow means we could potentially withdraw 3.2 million gallons. That's more in the ballpark."

"But what I heard was that, to get to that point, the permitting process takes twenty-four to thirty-six months," Picerno said. "It has to be approved by multiple agencies. They were suggesting that we go out and hire consultants."

"If I have to spend money on consultants, and it doesn't pan out, then I have just thrown away that money."

Noting that Moore County Public Utilities "is not awash in capital reserves," Picerno added that "I don't want to take what little money we have in there and chase a fish that won't bite the hook. That doesn't mean I'm against it, but it's a concern."

Kennedy, who hails from Northwest Moore, came away from the meeting with a somewhat more optimistic assessment, noting that the NCDENR officials seemed eager to see the Deep River water resource developed. Rapid growth in the state's population has state legislators and officials putting a priority on the development of public water supplies.

Still, Kennedy noted that "there are a lot of hurdles to jump." The amount of research and planning necessary to win a permit to withdraw water from Deep River is, in fact, daunting. The county will have to determine where to put its intake on the River and then measure streamflow at that location. A filing under the State Environmental Quality Act will be required. The river itself will need to be reclassified -- and other local governments and landowners along the river have a say in that reclassification.


Engineering & Consulting Costs Could be Substantial

Gould said he had not yet begun to develop estimates for the consulting and engineering costs associated with the permitting process. Those costs will depend, to some degree, on the details of a re-imagined project. For example, will high-flow skimming from Bear Creek be a part of the project, or will the county abandon the idea of pulling water from that stream?

"My gut is, it's not going to be cheap," Picerno said of the studies required to win a permit. "Cheap, to me, is a couple thousand dollars. If you were talking $50,000 to $100,000 . . ."

He noted that "about thirteen different governmental agencies have to sign off on it. All that does is add cost, and doesn't really produce water."

On the other hand, Kennedy noted, the state has developed a clearinghouse process that gives local governments a single point of contact through which they reach the dozen or more agencies that must sign off on the various applications required to develop a new water resource.

The advantage of looking to Robbins as a source for water is the potential that the project will spur economic development in Northwest Moore County, Picerno said. "But we don't have unlimited funds."

The other advantage, he added, "is that it has a reservoir." While acknowledging that the underground aquifer that supplies Moore County's wells is also a reservoir, of sorts, Picerno said he would like to add to the bodies of water that the County depends on for water. "And a body of water I can see gives me a little more confidence."

"I think it is doable," Kennedy told The Times, "but it is not a walk in the park. It may be wishful thinking, but I would hope we could negotiate an agreement with the Town that would allow us to develop that resource -- for the County's benefit and for their benefit."


Rules Limit Interbasin Transfer

If the county were to win a permit to extract 3.2 million GPD from the Deep River, transfer that water to the Robbins reservoir, and build a new water plant to treat it, state regulations will still limit how that water can be used in southern Moore County.

Environmental rules normally cap at 2 million GPD the movement of water from one river basin to another, and Moore County sits astride three separate river basins: the Deep, the Cape Fear, and the Lumber. Robbins and its reservoir are in the Deep River basin; most of Moore County's population resides in the Cape Fear and Lumber River Basins; and the County discharges the wastewater from its Addor wastewater treatment plant into the Lumber River.

So, only 2 million GPD of Deep River water could be transferred to Southern Moore County and then deposited, through septic systems or the Addor plant, into the Cape Fear or Lumber River basins.

However, Seven Lakes North and McLendon Hills both lie on the north side of the ridge upon which NC Highway 211 rests, placing them in the Deep River Basin.

Gould told The Times that the County and NCDENR can use GIS systems and the database of County water users to determine how much of the water transferred from Robbins would be used in the Deep River basin, in order to stay within the interbasin transfer rules.


Alternatives?

Asheboro, in Randolph County, has the ability to treat up to 9 million GPD of water from the Uwharrie River, and is ready to sell Moore County water. The Uwharrie is part of the Yadkin Pee Dee River basin, so interbasin transfer rules apply; however, Asheboro is grandfathered to provide water to the Deep River basin. On the other hand, Kennedy noted that Asheboro is itself a fast-growing area, and the excess water production capacity they have now might be needed closer to home a few decades down the line.

Gould previously estimated the cost of bringing water from Asheboro to Moore County at $24 million. That's roughly the same as the cost to bring Lumber River water from an unused industrial water intake near Wagram, assuming the County could partner with Southern Pines and Aberdeen to cover the cost of purchasing the facility.

The least expensive short-term options on Gould's drawing board involve purchasing additional water from Harnett County or drilling seven new wells. These options, with their associated infrastructure, would cost roughly $5 million each. Further infrastructure expansions, with a $9 million price tag, could utilize Harnett County water to supply all of the 3 million additional gallons per day that Moore County is expected to need in the next 30 years.

Gould will likely brief the Board of Commissioners on the meeting with state officials during the Board's Tuesday, August 21 regular meeting. Between now and then, on Thursday, August 16, the Commissioners will meet with the Greater Seven Lakes Community Council, which has asked for an update on options for bringing more water to the Seven Lakes area.


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