Contested Case Petition Against the Union County Interbasin Transfer Certificate

On the July 21, 2017, Yadkin Riverkeeper, represented by SELC, filed a contested case petition against the Union County Interbasin Transfer Certificate.  As written, this certificate would allow Union County and the town of Wingate in the eastern suburbs of Charlotte to remove 23.5 million gallons per day of raw water out of Lake Tillery on the Yadkin Pee Dee River. 

The Yadkin Pee Dee is a water-rich basin with fast growing urban neighbors.  Indeed, Charlotte has already fully tapped the Catawba watershed to the west of the Yadkin. As the Charlotte and Triad areas grow, the most expedient way to get water will be putting straws into the existing lakes on the Yadkin.  We are fighting this certificate to ensure that just because large reservoirs already exist on the Yadkin, they will not be drawn down to fuel growth outside the Yadkin Valley.  

Union County’s current plan would require a pipeline over twenty miles long, whose water would ultimately be treated in Union County and discharged to the Rocky River.  The Rocky is one of four separate sub-basins large enough to be considered distinct when the state considers transfers within the 7,221 square mile North Carolina Yadkin Pee Dee watershed.  

Local Water Supplies

Union County has refused to seriously consider steps that could be taken to source its drinking water from the Rocky River watershed in which it anticipates most of the growth that the proposed IBT would service-despite their own assessment showing that such a plan could save Union County water users $50 million.  Instead, Union County has objected that the Rocky River is not classified as a drinking water.  As we wrote in response to Union County’s submission to the state on the environmental impacts of the project in November of 2015, “We would respectfully submit that when local waters are impaired, the long-term solution to them is not to seek water elsewhere but to protect those waters to the point where they are a viable water supply.” 

Water Efficiency

The request is not the first interbasin transfer request out of the Yadkin to the growing suburbs of Charlotte.  A decade ago, before Yadkin Riverkeeper was created, Concord and Kannapolis  requested to remove 10 million gallons a day from the Yadkin.  In that case, the efficiency measures which Catawba Riverkeeper and SELC fought for were so effective that in 2016 Concord and Kannapolis used only 1.1 million gallons per day on average of their requested 10 million gallons per day.

This is not a new issue, Yadkin Riverkeeper and its members participated in public hearings and comment periods for almost two years.   In particular, members around Lake Tillery reached out to us, expressing worry that their lake levels would be impacted. 

Interbasin transfers are an option of last resort for municipalities, and the state of North Carolina has, on paper, powerful rules, to make sure that when a municipality applies for one, they are taking the least environmentally harmful option.  You can find the full text of those rules online by searching for N.C.G.S. §143-215.22L.

But those regulations are as effective as the state staff and appointees charged with enforcing them.   Years of budget cuts have left Department of Environmental Quality, our state environmental watchdog, without the resources to independently test the assumptions made by Union County and their paid consultants about environmental impacts of the proposed transfer.  Instead, we propose that where counties within the watershed disagree, there should be a trusted third party to estimate future water supply and needs.  In the Catawba, concerns about long-term water supply led to the creation of a Water Management Group.  Such a group was formed on the Yadkin just last year, and we believe that such a body could serve as a source for mutually-agreed upon data and modeling, to prevent disputes such as this one from becoming tied up in court.   All the major municipalities in the Yadkin Pee Dee valley have a shared interest in the Yadkin as their source of drinking water.

Given that Union County’s projects per capita water use levels-125 gallons per day per person-that are 25% higher than their current usage levels(approximately 100 gallons per day)-we remain concerned that they are simply hoping to subsidize industrial development with cheap water, rather than maximizing efficient use, as the law requires.

 Even if you take out industrial usage and look only at residential per capita usage, Union County’s rate is nearly 50% higher than that of Winston-Salem (66 vs 45 gallons per day per capita).  How can a system claim to have conservation measures equal to the most efficient upstream system when they use 50% more water per person than the largest upstream public water system?   

The Interbasin Transfer process is supposed to protect the environment as well as upstream and downstream water users.  The Union County certificate does neither.  Until it does, we will fight to see that the law on the books is enforced and the Yadkin is protected.

Read our comments here: /sites/default/files/Union County IBT EIS Comments.docx