Editor’s Note: Below is lengthy responses from Councilman Quint David, who responded to questions from a reporter in Ashe County about the Boone water intake. His responses weren’t published. While David looks forward to another interview in the future, he decided to share his responses as a letter to the editor in High Country Press.
Note that the responses below are from June 30.
1. Where is the project at now? Is the project on hold?
There have been several hold ups over the last few years, some internal and some political and external, and before I was a new council member it was one of my goals to ‘get to the bottom’ of what this intake was about. Now that I am elected and ‘on the inside’, I know a little more about both the progress and the snags and I can sadly say that we are in a bad spot. The project is still in the final land survey/purchase/engineering stages currently due to those external issues, and we had hoped to get the project to bid on actual construction within a year. We are not officially on hold yet but will be discussing that very issue at our next meeting. There are many rumors floating around but until a majority of us actually vote for something they are all just speculation. Stay tuned is all I can say for this question. I was part of the 70% that voted on this project years ago for environmental reasons. I can’t guarantee I feel the same today, especially given recent events.
2. What do you think about the advocacy groups that have formed against the project, like New River Keepers, Inc?
I have a slight background in environmental activism so I welcome groups dedicated to education and protecting our environment. Where I worry is when these groups can mean well on the surface they can also have unintended consequences and alternate motives underneath. I remember from back when we were having big fights about wind turbines in NC, and some sierra club groups were for it, and some were adamantly against it. Our decisions, or indecision, can have pros and cons on both sides. What makes sense in the short term may actually do more damage in the long term. Wind turbines don’t have coal ash spills, but you do ‘have to look at them’, and you may even have to cut down a few trees to get them in. People have differing opinions on which is ‘worse’ for ‘the environment’ in the long run.
I am only familiar with this ‘new’ advocacy group in that it seems to be comprised of the same individuals that have been fighting against this intake since the beginning, for many years, and on public record many times. I am a numbers guy, so when I see that we hit 80% of our maximum intake withdraw from our current intake and are then required by nc law to look for a new water source, and the requisite study finds that this was the best spot, it looks like a cut and dry 50 year+ planning ahead project to me. It doesn’t look like a power grab or takeover, it looks like the leaders in Boone were legally trying to meet the environmental requirements by the state regarding the water supply for a growing town. I can assume they wanted to deliver clean drinking water in the most environmentally responsible way possible to around 30,000+ people, for the next 50 years, and this is what the engineers said was the best option. Simple as that, although it seems very unexciting compared to some of the allegations by the opponents. From my short time as a newly elected I can only confirm that the unexciting was true. I want to do what is best for the river and our environment, in the most responsible way possible, and I hope that is the intentions all others involved in this ‘fight’ as well.
I was glad that we had the ‘support’ of the longstanding group, the National Committee for the New River, years ago. I put support in quotes because I wasn’t there at the time, but it seems like from the letter that supporting the intake may have been the ‘least bad’ decision for the town’s needs and they understood that. In a letter read to the town council it seemed like we had their support if proper calculations and environmental assessments were completed; “Before the project goes forward, NCNR believes the state must have updated scientifically determined minimum flow rates for the river at this site to calculate safe and ecologically healthy amounts of water are withdrawn.”
I have included the latest calculations and flow rates on the river in the links below.
3. Are you at all concerned about the allegations the advocacy group is making? According to them, the New River is impaired in some local areas, and the intake could harm the river further by decreasing the water level. So what kinds of studies have you seen to indicate otherwise? And can I see those studies.
I am extremely concerned about some of these allegations. It was my impression that the town of Boone had worked with NC DENR, environmental and state agencies to come to the conclusion that this intake would not have a negative impact. If that is not true we need to look back into things. It seems like 27 options at 7 sites were looked at, and this one was picked as the best for those reasons.
I was not involved with the political arena at that time any more than looking at an engineers report that said we were draining our current intake, and that a ballot issue for a second intake was coming up. Two intakes running at 50% of capacity each made a lot more sense than one at 100%, and with plenty of room to safely and responsibly grow, because we will grow whether we find water responsibly, or not. I see nothing on the advocacy groups page about ‘mountaintop removal student housing’ going in around Boone with wells and their own septic, with runoff heading straight into our trout streams, and eventually into our/your river too. If we are too narrow minded in our view about ‘the environment’ we may end up doing more harm than good. I also see none of the listings of reasons for actual impairment on their webpage which I feel is slightly misleading.
The river ‘impairment’ listed in the environmental assessments say a lot. Agricultural and runoff sources from development are listed as reasons for the impairment, yet I see nothing on our advocacy groups page about curbing pollution from runoff and agricultural sources, only from the “town of Boone”. Interesting, since our plant is one of the few that has not had prior issues. I would be curious to see their testing and how it compares to denr, and if there are differences I would be glad to investigate further, as it seems from their testing our treatment plant continues to improve the quality of its output according to testing. Intolerant species of stoneflys have returned to our section of the new river. We have a hellbender population to worry about. What can we do to further protect them and continue to improve our water quality?
“The South Fork New River/Fox Creek watershed contains seven out of the eight Impaired stream segments within the New River basin. Four of those segments include Naked Creek, Ore Knob Branch, Peak and Little Peak Creeks, which have been on the Impaired Waters list for several years. The remaining three Impaired segments (two segments of the South Fork New River and the East Fork South Fork New River) were added to the 2008 Impaired Waters list.This watershed has the largest population of the three watersheds in the New River basin and contains more of an of urban and agriculture land use mix. Several waterbodies in the watershed have pristine water quality conditions and are in need of protection as land use changes from forest to urban or agriculture areas.”
I would agree with that 2011 assessment from the division of water quality.
It is recommended that both county and municipal planning departments work cooperatively to ensure construction projects are completed in an environmentally responsible manner. Local governments are also urged to partner with local environmental groups and DWQ to determine the need for a Watershed Restoration Plan. A stressor study is recommended to pinpoint the source of nutrients and other stressors that are impacting the benthic community. DWQ supports the need for funding a Watershed Restoration Plan for this drainage area that includes an implementation plan and post implementation monitoring. The presence of the Hellbender salamander increases the priority of restoration and protection of this drainage area.”
(From the NC DWQ New River Basin Plan 2011)
I would also agree with the idea of a Watershed Restoration Plan and a stressor study, though I have not heard anyone mention this before. The reasons given for these issues have only basic relativity to the town of Boone, and more generally about development in our area’s watersheds. What can we do to protect them further from these issues? If it really is our treatment plant, I would certainly vote to fix it.
Decreasing water levels come up now and again~ I have seen numbers calculated in that report for around a “.03 foot” drop in water levels with the new intake. This seems insignificant and almost immeasurable, but I would like others more qualified to weigh in on the ‘impairment’ issue as I am having a hard time finding official documents or reference at all on the issue. That number came from the engineer at a public meeting, referenced below.
From the studies I have found it seems like our water treatment plant has and should continue to improve the quality its outflow. Species returning to the area are a great sign, but damage from development and runoff are not good and continue to impair these areas. We need to encourage proper silt fencing, covering exposed soil, and other construction practice that keeps this from happening. We also need to work together on that watershed restoration plan. In the big picture it seems like the Boone intake is inconsequential compared to the damage being done from unregulated development flowing sediment and trash down into the streams. Our UDO and storm water regulations can help take care of this within our town limits, but now not in the etj or even the county. Boone only covers about 6 square miles, and there is a lot more river than that. I wont talk about the other issues from other wastewater treatment plants on the river, but they are also in the report and seldom acknowledged. Honestly I didn’t even know about them until I read the whole report as Boone is the only party that gets any press these days.
The New River Keepers list their mission as: “to protect the New River Basin’s rivers, streams, and tributaries through study, education, and advocacy for the benefit of all those who depend on and enjoy these waters.”
While I agree with this mission and its importance, I find it odd that all the reports I read list development and agricultural runoff, not Boone’s intake or wastewater plant, as the reason for impairment qualification, and yet our proposed intake (with no impairment, as it doesn’t exist yet) is the focus of their organization. The removal of the Boone Dam is even listed as a recommendation, but little-nothing about the impact of intakes.
“Figure 2-6 shows 81% of the 27 sampling events received a Supporting rating and 12% received an Impaired rating. Figure 2-7 is a comparison of benthic site ratings sampled during the last two cycles to determine if there are any overall shifts in ratings. Twenty-four percent of ratings declined and 12% improved in rating. Majority of ratings however, did not change which indicates no watershed scale shift in water quality.”
(From the NC DWQ New River Basin Plan 2011)
Our rivers are declining on a whole even without a new Boone water intake, and will continue to do so if we ignore the real issues. Whether this intake happens or not we need to work together on that watershed restoration plan, stressor study, and come up with some way to improve our already declining rivers and streams as recommended by the division of water quality in 2011. Based on these studies I think the Boone intake project itself physically would have minimal direct impact on our rivers and streams, but the source of that projects need, the general growth of our region, will continue to negatively impact the river for many many miles outside of Boone’s influence.
It would be in all of our interests to work together to stop pollution, runoff, and to restore our streams. If in ten years the state no longer allows building permits to be issued in Boone town limits because we have maxed out our only intake, we will need to double our efforts to work with our county leaders to ensure proper strategies are in place to reduce growing development impacts into our watersheds, and we will likely need to monitor these issues more closely than just every other year. I look forward to working with any advocacy group, local commission, or citizen dedicated to improving the quality of our natural environment. Please stay in touch with your questions and concerns as our meetings in the next few weeks will include some serious discussion about the future quality of our rivers.
Apologies on the long winded-ness there. The study links are listed below. Let me know if you want me to summarize or anything, as since this is the first time I got to write in depth about this topic I am not very concise yet. Perhaps a letter to the editor would be better?
Two important ones:
Water Intake Environmental