Polk’s Lake Adger plans may hinge on Henderson County’s approval

Published 2:46 pm Friday, August 28, 2009

If Henderson County does not approve, Polk County officials say they will ask the state for a less restrictive water supply classification that does not affect Henderson County. However, that would mean Polk has no obligation to negotiate the sale of water to Henderson County in the future.

The Henderson County Board of Commissioners held a public hearing on Tuesday asking their residents whether Henderson County should endorse the state reclassifying the Green River to a class III water supply, which would affect areas of both Henderson and Polk counties. (See page 6 for Polk&39;s comments at the meeting Tuesday.)

Polk County initially asked the state to reclassify the river to a class IV, which would affect only Polk County, but the state recommended a class III and has asked Polk and Henderson counties to work together.

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Henderson County residents said they are not in favor of Polk reclassifying the river&39;s watershed to class III.

If Henderson County does not support class III, Polk will again submit a request to the state to have the river&39;s watershed made a class IV.

&dquo;It will ultimately be up to the state to make the call if we cannot come to terms,&dquo; says Polk County Manager Ryan Whitson.

Polk commissioners say if Henderson County does support the plan, though, that will be a sign that Henderson County understands the importance of protecting the watershed and that they may want to receive water in the future.

Another meeting regarding water issues in Henderson County is scheduled for Sept. 1 at 3 p.m. at the Henderson County Courthouse. The Henderson County Water Supply and Distribution Task Force will meet for public comments on all water issues affecting the southern end of Henderson County, including a request from Saluda to purchase the Tuxedo water system.

Look for more coverage on Polk County water issues, including the watershed and Saluda&squo;s request to purchase the Tuxedo system, in next week&squo;s Bulletins.&bsp;Editor&squo;s note: Below are comments made by Polk County Commissioner Warren Watson on behalf of Polk County during a Henderson County public hearing Tuesday on Polk&39;s request for Henderson County&squo;s support to reclassify the Green River to a class III so Polk can purchase Lake Adger as a future water source.

Dear Chairman Moyer and fellow commissioners,

In an attempt to clarify any misconceptions or misunderstandings with regard to Polk County&squo;s request for a Watershed III (WS-III) Classification, which would potentially affect southern Henderson County, the Polk County Board of Commissioners offers the following comments and clarifications for the Henderson County Board of Commissioners and the Henderson County community.

First of all, it is imperative for Henderson County officials and residents to understand that Polk County officials originally requested a Watershed IV (WS-IV) classification from the State of North Carolina, when deciding to purchase Lake Adger as the future water source for our county of approximately 20,000 residents. It was only at the insistence of state officials that we revised our request to WS‐III.

The main two reasons Polk County preferred a WS-IV classification were that

1) we were advised by our engineer that the WS-IV classification was adequate for our needs, and 2) the WS-IV would have no impact on water or land use restrictions outside the borders of Polk County. But the State of North Carolina was insistent on a WS-III classification.

Secondly, once Polk was told by the state to request the WS-III classification and to work out any pertinent issues with Henderson County, we held a joint meeting of our respective boards of commissioners in an attempt to address some of Henderson County&squo;s concerns.

A primary concern was the potential impact of land use restrictions imposed by the WS-III classification on the Henderson County residents within the affected area. In the original draft presented to Polk County officials by Henderson County entitled, &dquo;Interlocal Agreement for Sharing Resources on the Green River,&dquo; it states that the WS-III classification &dquo;would greatly affect property owners in Henderson County whose property lies within such proposed watershed.&dquo;

However, it is our understanding that Henderson County land use restrictions already in place are actually stronger than the land use restrictions imposed by the WS-III classification. The WS-III classification would, therefore, impose no more stringent restrictions than those currently in place.

At the Sept. 30, 2008 meeting between Henderson and Polk County commissioners and Polk County Commissioners, Henderson County acknowledged that the WS-III classification would allow two housing units per acre of land, double or triple what is currently allowed.

As to Henderson County&squo;s ability to change land use restrictions to less stringent requirements in the affected areas, it should be clearly noted that Polk County has no desire to restrict land use in any way in neighboring Henderson County. However, it should be further noted that given the rural nature and steep topography of the subject area, a WS-III classification is unlikely to impact Henderson County residents in the foreseeable future.

Since our initial meeting with Henderson County, Henderson County&squo;s draft &dquo;Interlocal Agreement,&dquo; and Polk&squo;s subsequent response, a number of questions and concerns have been raised by residents and local media that should be addressed.

It is the hope of Polk County officials that we can alleviate many of those concerns. We emphasize that although Polk County is actively pursuing a watershed classification to protect our rights to remove a limited quantity of up to 8 million gallons per day (MGD) from the Green River, we intend no harm toward the residents of Henderson County, and we believe that our ability to withdraw the specified amount of water from the Green River basin will have no significant impact on Henderson County residents. (See Lake Adger Safe Yield Analysis, September, 2008, prepared by Odom & Associates Engineering, Inc.)

What is the reasoning behind Polk County&squo;s request for 8 million gallons per day?

Obviously, with only 20,000 residents, and with approximately 80 percent of those residents on well water, Polk County&squo;s immediate needs are far from the requested 8 MGD. In fact, the figure 8 million gallons per day was more a product of the negotiations during our purchase agreement on Lake Adger from its current owner, which uses it to generate electricity. As part of the agreement, the current owner will continue to have the right to generate that power.

The amount requested was actually determined by its impact on daily lake levels, which would otherwise impact power generation as well as recreation. Our short-term needs will warrant no more than a 1- or 2- MGD treatment plant, even if we were to sell up to 500,000 gallons per day to Henderson County, as we have discussed. We plan to design the plant for expandability, up to the maximum capacity of 8MGD (probably not in our lifetimes).

What is the nature of Polk County&squo;s contract with Inman-Campobello Water District, a South Carolina entity, and is Polk County selling water to South Carolina?

The contract with Inman-Campobello Water District was conceived as a way to connect a willing seller with a lot of unused capacity, Broad River Water Authority (BRWA), with a willing purchaser needing a large quantity of processed water, Inman-Campobello Water District (ICWD). Polk County&squo;s role is that of facilitator, not seller.

Since the only way to connect the buyer with the seller was across Polk County, we were approached by ICWD with a proposal to make that happen. The ICWD/BRWA proposal included providing Polk County with ownership, and thus control, of the water lines needed to facilitate the transaction within our county&squo;s borders, at no cost to us.

The water from BRWA is metered as it enters Polk County from Rutherford County, North Carolina, and metered again as it exits Polk County into Spartanburg County, South Carolina, into ICWD-owned lines. Thus, Polk County is not selling water to Inman-Campobello Water District, but only facilitating a pass-through, with no revenue or profits.

The benefit derived by Polk County has been several miles of &dquo;free&dquo; water lines along the Southeastern area of our county, along with access to a quantity of water not to exceed 600,000 gallons per day from ICWD, from which Polk County can draw water for sale within Polk County, for a period of up to 20 years while we build our water system infrastructure and future water treatment plant near Lake Adger. This was also the reasoning behind the offer of up to 500,000 gallons per day to Henderson County for a period of 20 years running concurrently with the ICWD/BRWA/Polk County Agreement. It is not our intent to sell water from our future Lake Adger intake to South Carolina.

Why is Polk County purchasing Lake Adger for use as a water source?

As stated above, approximately 80 percent of Polk County&squo;s residents currently use wells for their source of water. With changing weather patterns and three droughts during the past several years, and more droughts predicted by meteorologists, Polk citizens have concerns about wells running dry with no other available water source. Many wells have already gone dry, and we are trying to address that with the ICWD water.

Other concerns include potential ground water contamination resulting from improperly built older wells, septic drain fields, chemical fertilizers and other agricultural use, landfill seepage, and other sources.

In 2007, the Polk County Board of Commissioners made it a priority to begin work on our long-term goal of providing a dependable and high quality source of public water for our citizens. After six months of negotiations, in April 2008, the Polk County Board of Commissioners agreed to purchase Lake Adger. During that same time period, we also embarked on a two-year comprehensive plan based on a county-wide survey of residents. The plan, entitled Polk County 20/20 Vision Plan, incorporates a comprehensive water plan for Polk County which includes phased infrastructure and an eventual water treatment plant near Lake Adger.

What does Polk County plan to do with access to such an abundance of available water?

Opponents of Polk County&squo;s requests to harness the primary water resource within the boundaries of Polk County by purchasing Lake Adger and building a water treatment plant to process some of that water for use by county residents as a safe and reliable present and future water source, have opined that &dquo;it is possible for Polk County to attract significant commercial and residential developments or to sell water into South Carolina.&dquo; Although on the surface this statement would appear to have some merit, in reality, Polk County residents and Polk County officials have said &dquo;no&dquo; to significant commercial and residential development.

As referenced earlier, Polk County is in the midst of a two-year countywide comprehensive plan, including land use and water resource planning. This plan, the Polk County 20/20 Vision Plan, has been guided by a countywide survey whose respondents overwhelmingly requested that we maintain the county&squo;s rural character, and the small-town charm, that we focus on protecting our natural resources, our ridgelines and mountainsides, and that we promote agricultural interests, our equine industry, eco-tourism, viticulture, and other economic development pursuits, consistent with the primarily rural nature of our county. We aim to do just that. But even keeping our county a healthy rural county requires a reliable source of water.

From the beginning, since our previous board of commissioners began negotiations to purchase Lake Adger, it has been the goal of the Polk County Board of Commissioners to secure a reliable and safe source of water for the citizens of Polk County into the next century. Our current needs, with or without the participation of any of our municipalities, are still low at present.

However, we feel that it is prudent to give incentives for as many residents as possible to join our public water system and stop depending on potentially unreliable wells that could fall victim at any time to severe drought or contamination. One of our municipalities runs its entire system off of well water, and we feel the need to provide them with an affordable alternative if future needs arise. In addition, small municipalities struggle to maintain their systems and are facing increasing financial pressures to collaborate in an effort to provide a more affordable and higher quality water source. With the purchase of Lake Adger, and the future water treatment plant, Polk County will have the ability to provide for those needs.

It has been stated that &dquo;access to Lake Adger as a water supply resource provides great potential financial benefit to Polk County government and residents.&dquo; Does Polk County intend to use Lake Adger water as a revenue source to enrich the county or its citizens?

Polk County is purchasing Lake Adger for one reason: to obtain a long-term sustainable water source for the citizens of Polk County. Although Lake Adger water may be viewed as a potential financial resource for Polk County, it can also be viewed equally as a great financial responsibility and liability.

Part of the purchase of the water in Lake Adger includes ownership of an 80-year old dam. With ownership of that dam comes the responsibility of dam maintenance. Power generation is not a revenue source for Polk County under this agreement. The power generation capacity of the Lake Adger dam was leased back to the seller for a nominal amount, as a financial incentive during contract negotiations.

The real benefit is not financial at all. Water is, first and foremost, a public health and safety issue in Polk County. As a result of this purchase, many citizens will be able to have an affordable and reliable water source and many citizens will be able to cease their dependence on old and potentially unreliable wells. Since Polk County taxpayers are heavily subsidizing the installation of auxiliary water lines as an incentive to encourage volunteer participation in our water system, financial gain is obviously not our primary objective.

One might surmise that given the financial burden associated with the water system, as we have previously described, that Polk County may have even more incentive to sell water to South Carolina. However, one of the additional financial burdens would actually come from committing to sell a significant amount of water (beyond our initial 1- to 2-MGD plant capacity) to an outside entity due to the huge expense of expanding the capacity of our future water treatment plant to produce the additional &dquo;finished water.&dquo; Is selling water to South Carolina possible? Of course. Is it likely? Absolutely not!!!

In fact, in a recent news article, the Spartanburg Water System has said that it has enough water to last for the next 75 years; it does not seek to buy water from Polk County. Does Polk County expect to profit from the sale of water from Lake Adger? No, we just want to secure access for Polk County&squo;s current and future water needs. We see the purchase of Lake Adger and the eventual construction of a water intake and water treatment plant as a prudent course of action to ensure that Polk County&squo;s water needs are met into the next century.

One other fact worth mentioning is that because of Polk County&squo;s agreement with BRWA and ICWD, we have actually relieved any perceived pressure for Polk County to sell water to South Carolina. The truth is that ICWD was in need of an additional water source, and BRWA was in need of a large capacity customer due to the loss of many of its former high capacity customers such as textile plants. Our agreement has helped address both of those needs, while providing Polk County with a cost-effective way to provide drought-stricken properties in the southeast area of the county with a quick and reliable source of water, along with some much-needed infrastructure and an opportunity to begin building our own multi-year, multi-phase water system.

By endorsing Polk County&squo;s Watershed Designation request, is Henderson County guaranteeing Polk County a certain capacity of water from the Green River or Lake Adger?

No. The amount of water removed from the Green River basin via Polk&squo;s future Lake Adger water intake is determined by several factors, including the contract agreement with the seller, the ability for the seller to use Lake Adger to produce electricity, recreation rights of Lake Adger property owners, and State of North Carolina regulatory requirements.

Henderson County&squo;s cooperation with Polk&squo;s request will have little bearing on Polk&squo;s water intake capacity. However, Henderson County&squo;s cooperation with Polk could result in a future collaboration between the two counties, which would be favorable in the eyes of state authorities, and could potentially provide southern Henderson County with a high quality and reliable water source.

Henderson County has requested that Polk County provide it with the option to purchase water from Polk County in the future. We are still open to partnering with Henderson County, to the extent that Henderson County&squo;s requests are reasonable, realistic, and consistent with Polk County&squo;s interests. Polk County officials believe that notwithstanding the political pressure surrounding this issue, Polk and Henderson counties&squo; respective boards of commissioners can negotiate a mutually beneficial agreement. Polk officials do empathize with the concerns of Henderson County officials and residents with regard to these sensitive issues.

Other questions and concerns have arisen in community meetings, editorials, and at commissioner meetings. Many of those questions and concerns could be resolved in the process of negotiating terms of Henderson County&squo;s proposed draft, &dquo;Interlocal Agreement for Sharing Water Resources on the Green River.&dquo;

The Polk County Board of Commissioners has attempted to convey our intentions with regard to the purchase of Lake Adger and the desire to withdraw water from Lake Adger for the use of the present and future residents of Polk County. We can assure you that we have no hidden agendas, no desire to control land use or water use in Henderson County, and we feel that Polk County&squo;s future water intake on Lake Adger has the potential to benefit the citizens of both Polk and Henderson Counties. Polk County has made a good faith effort to cooperate and collaborate with Henderson County in an effort to share these water resources. However, time is of the essence for Polk County in this endeavor.

Therefore, the Polk County Board of Commissioners respectfully requests the cooperation of the Henderson County Board of Commissioners by endorsing Polk County&squo;s WS-III Designation request with the State of North Carolina.

Please be advised that in the absence of this endorsement, Polk County intends to pursue the WS-IV designation with the State of North Carolina, as it originally did, which will, in essence, relieve Polk County of any further obligation to negotiate future water sales to Henderson County. And, of course, this board cannot predict the demeanor or intentions of future Polk County boards to collaborate with Henderson County on water issues.

However, in the spirit of friendship and goodwill, the Polk County Board of Commissioners wishes to assure the citizens of Henderson County and the Henderson County Board of Commissioners that regardless of the outcome of this endeavor, the current Polk County Board of Commissioners will not hinder any future attempts by Henderson County to withdraw reasonable amounts of water from the Green River for the benefit of the citizens of Henderson County. We wish only the best for our northern neighbors, and we encourage interlocal cooperation, and feel that it is warranted in this issue.

With kind regards,

Polk County Board of Commissioners

Cynthia Walker ‐ Chair

Warren D. Watson ‐ Vice Chair

Tommy W. Melton

Renee McDermott

Ray Gasperson