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LETTERS / Boone’s Water Use Committee – June 11

Dear Editor, 

[Boone’s Water Use Committee] spent approximately 1 1/2 hours in discussion and accomplished little in the way of providing useful information regarding ongoing issues and questions regarding the proposed water intake and transmission line. I commend Ms. Williamson for being concerned with the intake and where the town is headed with the project, but  other committee members seemed uninterested in asking tough questions and getting real information out to the public.

I found it particularly interesting that during the discussion of the town’s reserve set aside for the old high school property that one of the committee members made the comment that the GPD number being asked for from the county for the property was “based on incorrect numbers and calculations.” That to me is most hypocritical, since the entire water intake project is based, in my opinion, on incorrect numbers and calculations. At the end of the discussion the town director of utilities once again referenced the Environmental Assessment of 2009 as the definitive document on the project.  However, there is much in that document that is subject to question if one digs into the numbers.  While it does not specifically relate to numbers,  the town manager  has stated that maps in the EA are wrong. What other information could be incorrect as well? As to numbers, I have pointed out before that the need numbers used to justify this oversized intake do not match up with the town’s own actual usage numbers submitted to the state each year through the Local Water Supply Plan.

As just one example, below is a short quote from page 8 of the EA: 

“It should be noted that when the Town’s five day maximum day demand for the system reaches 2.40 MGD (80% of capacity), the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources Public Water Supply Section (NCDENR) regulations recommend that expansion planning be initiated. Assuming an ADD of 1.86 MGD in 2007 and the maximum MDD/ADD ratio from the past two years of approximately 1.38, the theoretical MDD for 2007 was 2.567 MG.

Therefore, in 2006, the Town crossed NCDENR’s recommended threshold for the initiation of expansion planning. Based on the fact that the Town appears to be adding an additional 0.0605 MG of consumption per year and an MDD/ADD ratio of 1.38, it is estimated that the Town needs to be under construction no later than the 2010 time frame.”

There is considerable questionable information in this one short statement. It should be noted that the actual LWSP question reads:  ” Did average daily water production exceed 80% of approved plant capacity for five consecutive days during the year?” For every LWSP that has been submitted going back through 2007 the answer has been “NO“. The only time the town has exceeded 80% capacity looking back at the numbers has been for a day or two in 2008 and the same in 2009 and most likely attributed to leaks.  For the last two years there has been zero days even approaching 80%.  The statement that the “Town crossed NCDENR’s recommended threshold for the initiation of expansion planning” in 2006 ( much less plans to build an oversized, unnecessary intake and 12 mile pipeline) is not justified by the real data/numbers.  The statement itself makes the threshold conclusion based on assumptive and theoritical numbers for 2006, 2007, and 2008.   Why would you use theoretical and assumptive numbers when the actual water usage data and trends was available for 2006, 2007, & 2008 while the EA was being prepared for release in fall of 2009? It certainly cannot be to promote openness and transparency and informed decision making by the public as well as the governmental entities involved in the permitting process…real numbers versus theoretical… you be the judge of which are more thrustworthy.

At last month’s meeting it has already been shown that the 500,000 GPD to sell to Blowing Rock and the 1,000,000 GPD for unallocated reserve were not fact based numbers with any documentation to show how they were determined. But those are key numbers in the EA that highly inflate the town of Boone’s future water “need”.  However,  those numbers were treated in the EA as factual and used to justify the size of the project. Also, in the EA,  a projected/future water use number was used for the ASU system from a 2002 LWSP. That number  for the year 2030 was significantly higher than the 2030 number in the 2007 ASU LWSP and every year since (1.515 MGD in the 2002 plan versus .84 MGD in every plan from 2007 until present).  Why use a number from the 2002 ASU LWSP when there are numerous other more current numbers available in the most current LWSP’s while the EA was being prepared?  That is a question to be asked of those who prepared/signed off on the EA. I cannot answer except to say that in the EA that 2002 higher ASU number was used as a reason to rule out  the option of developing a more comprehensive water sharing agreement with ASU as a means of meeting the town’s future water needs… a number that is basically half of what the ASU plan’s show for the past 5 years. By the way, the 840,000 GPD number in 2030 represents 42% of the ASU capacity of 2,000,000 GPD.

Some  additional observations:

At the 5/1 WUC meeting a straw vote was taken and later approved by the town council to send  letters to the town of Blowing Rock and Watauga County to confirm their need to buy water from the town ( as justification for the numbers used in the EA ) and in the case of BR their committment to pay a proportionate share of the project. So much for those numbers being fact based.

At the close of the discussion, someone asked the question about the status of the ROW acquisition for the project. The answer from town staff was a brief “it’s being worked on.”  Same response given last meeting to a similar question. How about some revelation from the staff about any problems or issues in that process and some discussion about the “huge and significant” condemnation costs ( as the town managerput it last month) that are going to be involved if this project moves forward.  Anyone concerned that there may be huge and significant costs that may not have been planned or accounted for, requiring more money and debt?

As for permitting, if the 2009 EA is the reveal all document, why was the required flood mapping application recently denied/closed by FEMA because of the town’s unresponsiveness to that agency and other governmental agencies concerns with the project? What is the status of the town’s decision to reapply ( costing the town several thousand more dollars )? Is the town now willing to answer questions and supply information to FEMA, the NCDPS, Ashe County and others? Why so secretive?

I also find it interesting that in the recently released report commissioned by Boone to review housing that the consulting firm was skeptical of the population forecasts others were making for the town:

“Yewell said the firm was skeptical of others’ projections that the population would grow another 20 percent between 2010 and 2020, noting that local growth has primarily been driven by enrollment at Appalachian State University and that ASU leaders anticipate enrollment to grow by 423 students during the next decade.

“We think that the growth during that period is somewhat less than what is being forecast,” he said.

Again population growth driven by ASU has been a key selling point of this project to town citizens both in the infamous 2004 “study” and now in the 2009 EA. Well, that  population growth may not be the case after all.

 Again quoting from the EA:

“Using the 2003 Average Day Demand and the 2002 water system user population, the total system average demand per capita is 82.6 gallons per capita per day (gpcd). Applying this to the 2030 projected water system user population, and using the average demand per capita shown above, we would estimate the 2030 Average Day Demand (ADD) to be 2.75 MGD (33,336 population x 82.6 gpcd).”

Really… a population of 33,336 in 2030, almost double the 2010 census? Why use 2002 and 2003 numbers anyway? At any rate, it seems the most current consultant may not agree with that forecast and the population and true future water needs may be grossly overstated.

It appears that the more you dig into the EA the more questions arise about real future water needs for the town and the more it takes on the appearance of the infamous 2004 study that was used to sell this project to the voting public.  The numbers simply do not justify this large intake as the right and least costly option for Boone’s true water needs.

Frank Packard

Todd, NC