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Why the Town of Boone Didn’t Locate Proposed Intake Project on the Watauga River

The Watauga River - this section is located near the N.C. 105/Broadstone Road intersection. Photo by Ken Ketchie
The Watauga River – this section is located near the N.C. 105/Broadstone Road intersection. Photo by Ken Ketchie

By Jesse Wood

As the Town of Boone’s water intake project on the South Fork of the New River drags on into 2015, continuing to jump or skirt numerous hurdles along the way, people around town have been asking: Why not pull water from the Watauga River?

W.K. Dickson, the Charlotte-based engineer firm hired by the Town of Boone, identified the Watauga River among 26 other sites for the town’s raw water intake system that will be capable of drawing four million gallons of water per day out of the New River once it comes on line in a few years.

According to an old pamphlet distributed by the Town of Boone detailing the project to residents, “The options spanned the area from Watauga Lake in Tennessee to the Yadkin River, including several sites on the South Fork of the New River.”

The Watauga River flows underneath N.C. 105.
The Watauga River flows underneath N.C. 105.

Based on W.K. Dickson’s analysis, the mayor and town council at the time chose the current site on the South Fork of the New River near Ashe County, which was noted as the “best option for the intake facility” in the pamphlet.

While W.K. Dickson doesn’t have authority to speak on behalf of the Town of Boone, Town Manager John Ward said that from his understanding there are three reasons the Watauga River wasn’t selected as the water source for the proposed intake.

  • Water from the Watauga River would require an interbasin transfer permit from the state.
  • 20 percent 7Q10 flow requirements were factored into the decision involving the amount of water available while meeting federal requirements.
  • Static lift from Watauga River to Boone is rather high, adding costs.

According to a state water allocation study by Duke’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, an interbasin transfer permit is “difficult to obtain.”

As for the 7Q10 flow? This is considered the standard measurement to evaluate stream flow for the purposes of water withdrawal and wastewater discharge, which the Town of Boone’s proposed water intake will accomplish. 7Q10 flow is defined as the lowest stream flow that is measured for seven consecutive days and this amount is estimated to be a once-every-10-years event.

According to DENR report, the Town of Beech Mountain is the only local water supply plan system that uses surface water from the Watauga Basin, which happens to be the smallest river basin in the state.

The vast majority of Boone is located in the New River Basin. The North Carolina section of the Watauga Basin is comprised of 206 square miles of headwaters of a larger 883-square-mile basin that is primarily located in Tennessee, according to a 2001 DENR Division of Water Resources report.

The section of the Watauga Basin in North Carolina drains the mountains of Watauga and Avery counties through the Elk and Watauga River, which flow into the Watauga Lake in Tennessee’s Carter County.

As for costs, it’s unclear how much more money the Town of Boone would have had to spend to transfer water into Boone from the Watauga River.

In 2008, 73 percent of town voters approved the $25-million bond referendum in  for a new intake system drawing water from the New River near Todd. Two years later, the Boone Town Council accepted a $20.5 million loan from the USDA to finance the project.