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Beech Mountain Seeks Water Intake Near Guy Ford Bridge, Kayak Put-in for Classic Watauga Gorge

By Jesse Wood

Nov. 19, 2013. Similar to a process the Town of Boone went through for its proposed water intake near Brownwood Road, the Town of Beech Mountain is seeking a reclassification of the Watauga River for a proposed raw-water intake to be located just upstream from the Guy Ford bridge, which is three miles west of the Watauga River Bridge on U.S. 321 and upstream of the confluence of Beech Creek.

On Tuesday, the Town of Beech Mountain will request a required resolution from the Watauga County Board of Commissioners supporting the reclassification of the Watauga River as a drinking water source, as “water supply waters.” 

Buckeye Lake during summer 2010 drought.
Buckeye Lake during summer 2010 drought.

The reclassification is just one of numerous hoops the Town of Beech Mountain must jump through in order to just reclassify the waters of Watauga as WS-IV – let alone complete the project. The reclassification process is expected to take two to three years, and the request of support from the Watauga County Board of Commissioners is among the initial steps in this proposed project.

In addition to the construction of a water intake, the town will also, of course, construct a line to transport the raw water to the town’s treatment plant. The raw-water line will run along the shoulder of the road inside the N.C. Department of Transportation maintained roadway limits. It will require two to three pump stations to overcome elevation difference.

“The source is only intended to be used when the existing Buckeye Creek Reservoir falls below its normal pool water level. Ordinarily this will only occur during periods of drought,” according to Lee Spencer, an environmental consultant out of Winston Salem hired by the town to assist in the project.

The watershed affected by the proposed intake consists of 30,366 acres, which is approximately 15 percent of the county’s land area, according to a memo from Deron Geouque. The WS-IV designation that Beech Mountain is seeking is the least restrictive designation and requires half-acre lots for residences. A portion of the watershed is currently designated High Quality Waters by the state and requires one-acre lots on all new developments.

In a memo, Beech Mountain Utilities Director Robert Heaton said the need for a supplemental intake is “intensified” when considering the large-growth potential for the town of Beech Mountain. He cited that 5,434 lots exist on Beech Mountain and only 1,745, or 32 percent, are built upon.  He noted that there is potential for 3,128 new homes atop Beech.

“Without question, the water needs of growth anywhere near these figures would greatly overtax the supply of Buckeye Lake,” Heaton wrote. “But putting numbers aside and focusing on real-world impacts, the tangible event that highlighted the need for the water source in the most dramatic way was the extreme drought conditions that the Town of Beech Mountain experienced in the summer of 2010.”

Heaton noted while the reservoir began to drop because of the lack of flow coming into Buckeye Lake, algae bloom occurred in the lake because of the lack of stream flow, making it difficult to filter water. At the peak of the drought, only a few inches of water existed over Beech’s lowest intake. 

“This intake is critical to the future viability of Beech Mountain,” Town Manager Randy Feierabend wrote in a letter to the commissioners.

The intake along the Watauga River wasn’t the only option considered. The town also considered a pumping station on Pond Creek, which was deemed not viable because of inadequate water flow.

The town considered raising the dam up 10 feet. While this would add 21 to 22 days of water storage, officials noted that this isn’t a long-term solution to the raw-water problems of Beech Mountain. It also considered wells, which a previous study by Analytical Services Inc. of Culpepper, Va., found the likelihood of insufficient ground water available on Beech Mountain.

“The Watauga River was considered last among all of the available options because of the distance and therefore the cost. However … it is a solution which can serve the Town for most, if not all of the next century,” P. Marion Rothrock, president of Rothrock Engineering, wrote to the commissioners.

The maximum requested instantaneous withdrawal rate is to be 2 million gallons per day.

“If final approval is ultimately granted, the town intends to construct an unobtrusive intake with a small footprint. The plan is for the finished contour of the riverbank to closely match the original contour, with no physical structure in the river. The hope is that the casual observer may not know that a raw water intake is present,” according to documents provided to the commissioners.

Guy Ford Road is a put-in to the classic Watauga Gorge kayak run that flows into Tennessee. The five-mile paddle drops 100 feet per mile and flows through the rugged, remote wilderness.

Mike Mayfield has paddled the gorge about 400 times since 1978. He mentioned that the rate of the intake wouldn’t affect the recreational flows in the Watauga. 

“One million gallons per day is only about 1.5 cfs so even if they pumped at three times that rate, it wouldn’t really affect recreational flows in the Watauga much.  That’s especially true if they use it only for a back-up supply during drought.  At times like those, the river isn’t runnable,” Mayfield wrote in an email.

Knowing little about the proposed plans that include an intake structure nearby the river access area, Mayfield mentioned that a “bigger concern” is what would happen to the parking area that the boaters use.

Spencer said that there might be initial disturbance to the parking area during construction. But afterwards, it shouldn’t impact the parking area. 

The Watauga County Board of Commissioners meets tonight, Tuesday, Nov. 19, at 5 p.m.

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