Polk considers regionalizing water sources with ICWD

Published 11:36 pm Thursday, September 25, 2014


by Leah Justice
The Polk County Board of Commissioners likely faces its biggest decision in years after the Inman-Campobello Water District (ICWD) offered to partner with Polk County. The offer includes ICWD paying for Turner Shoals Dam repairs, costs for building and operating a water plant in Polk if necessary, paying for at least $100,000 a year worth of new water lines in Polk County and helping the county with dredging needs at Lake Adger.
Commissioners met Monday, Sept. 22 for a special work session with ICWD general manager Jeff Walker.
Walker said he and Interim Polk County Manager Marche Pittman have worked hard on the proposed partnership and he thinks they have a pretty good proposal; one that should prompt a lot of thought anyway, he said.

Funding water lines

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Walker began by talking about ICWD helping Polk with long range planning, including hydraulic modeling to decide where water lines need to go in Polk and what sizes they need to be.
“ICWD would be willing to fund the backbone lines at least $100,000 a year,” Walker said.
After Polk County discussing for years future costs for a water system, including an estimated $2-3 million worth of required repairs to the Lake Adger dam, a future water plant, operational costs of the plant and continuing to construct its own water lines. Hearing ICWD would fund at least $100,000 worth of main water lines was the first news to shock the meeting room.

Dam repairs/lake maintenance

Perhaps the biggest immediate piece of the potential partnership is ICWD’s offer to fund Lake Adger dam repairs, with Walker saying it’s an estimated $2.6 million expense to bring the dam up to current North Carolina standards. Polk County has been saving money every year to pay for the needed repairs to the dam. Polk purchased Lake Adger to use as a future water source and knew at the time of the purchase repairs to Turner Shoals dam were needed. The Green River watershed, which includes Lake Adger was reclassified by the state effective Sept. 1 as a class IV watershed in order to construct an intake on the lake to use as a drinking water source in the future.
“ICWD would fund and manage ongoing maintenance of the dam,” said Pittman. “We just shelled out $18,000 for an inspection; they would take over (those types of costs).”
ICWD is also offering to help the county with ongoing silt issues with Lake Adger.
Pittman said there would be no changes in agreements with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission that impacts any recreational use of the lake or with the Lake Adger Homeowners Associations.
“That’s the main message we need to get across to the public,” Pittman said. “That’s an important piece we really have to address.”
Walker said ICWD doesn’t want to spend time actually dredging Lake Adger, but he thinks the district’s pool of engineers can address the issue and would help in any way they could.
And if a water plant was ever needed in Polk County, ICWD would fund, own and operate it as well, according to Walker.

A joint committee

Walker said the partnership would include a joint committee be formed, suggesting the committee be made up of the Polk County Manager, a Polk County Commissioner and a Polk County appointee, along with the ICWD general manager and an ICWD board member. He also said as part of the partnership he’d like to see Polk adopt ICWD’s water extension policy, which is similar to Polk County’s current extension policy.
The committee would make decisions regarding where water lines go in Polk County, instead of commissioners, which commissioners seemed in favor of because a committee would take any politics out of those decisions.

Polk funded water lines/towns’ futures

Walker also said the partnership and funding from ICWD would not eliminate any water line projects Polk County may want to do itself. He said, for example, if grant money came in, those monies could be used or if for whatever reason Polk County wants to put money towards a particular water line it could do so. He said ICWD has gotten money from Spartanburg and the federal government and that money from Polk County would come in as a grant.
Walker also addressed the towns of Columbus and Tryon and City of Saluda.
Polk and its towns have since 2001 discussed joining water sources and forming a district or authority but the efforts have never made it further than discussions. Polk and all towns are now all connected with water lines in order to share resources if necessary.
Walker and Pittman said as part of the proposal, if Columbus, Saluda or Tryon wanted to join the partnership they could.
“If one of the municipalities chose to join in they certainly could,” Pittman said.

Engineering savings

On engineering services, if Polk and ICWD decide to partner, ICWD would continue to do everything it currently does in Polk County, but Polk would not have to hire its own engineer to install new water lines. Pittman said that would mean an approximate $3,000 monthly savings for Polk as that much would be eliminated in the budget for a contract with current county engineer Dave Odom. Pittman said the possibility has been discussed with Odom favorably.

Pooling water

Walker said the proposal would mean Polk and ICWD would pool its water sources, meaning three sources would be available to Polk County and ICWD, not just one for Polk.
“The concept here is to put our water resources together,” Walker said. “We can get a better plan, better manage and operate it.”
ICWD currently has capacity for 3.5 million gallons per day (mgd) and Polk County has a current 0.6 mgd capacity purchasing from Broad River Water Authority (BRWA). In the future, ICWD will be permitted for another 8 mgd. Polk’s future is not yet permitted with the use of Lake Adger, but 2 mgd was used on the watershed study.
“If you add all those together you have 14.1 mgd of combined water resources,” said Walker.
He said the current projection is the combined Polk/ICWD region would require 7 mgd in 50 years, not including the towns’ water usage.

20-year contract

ICWD is asking for a 20-year contract. Pittman said Polk County customers would remain Polk County customers, the water lines would still be owned by Polk County and ICWD would extend the same rates, terms and conditions that it provides ICWD customers.
If the contract is ever terminated, Polk County would retain all its existing water assets located in the county and Polk would repay ICWD for its investments in water lines and the Lake Adger dam, less depreciation, Walker said.
“Hopefully things would be going so well that won’t be the case,” said Walker.
Walker said this partnership could be the third evolution in ICWD/Polk County’s contractual relationship. He said Polk County and ICWD do not lose anything if they partner. Each party gains quite a bit, he said, and is protected if the contract should ever be terminated.
“Polk County doesn’t need ICWD’s source but it does benefit from its experience and economics of scale,” Walker said. “ICWD doesn’t need Polk’s source but it does benefit from the security a reservoir provides.”
Commissioner Tom Pack said the board needs a consensus to see an agreement/contract in order to look at the details and legalities.
Commissioner Ray Gasperson agreed, saying a there are a lot of points to be considered. Gasperson said he doesn’t think it needs to be rushed, but also said it is one of the best deals ever.
Walker said the partnership is a win-win for ICWD and Polk County. He said their collaborative efforts have been progressing since 2008.
“Providing more technical expertise and services that the county needs is another step in that positive direction we’ve been on,” said Walker. “Further, pooling our water resources makes a lot of sense so that we can both realize the benefits of a combined water system well into the future.”
Pittman said the agreement could ensure the county has multiple water sources into the future and take the costs of a system away from taxpayers.
“This proposed amended agreement with Inman-Campobello Water District will ensure that Polk County has access to multiple water sources for decades,” said Pittman. “It also transfers the cost of owning and operating a water system from the Polk County taxpayers to the users of the system.”
To enter into the new partnership, Polk County and ICWD would have to amend its current agreement and extend it for 20 years. Both the ICWD board and commissioners would have to agree on a contract.
Commissioners came to a consensus on Monday to have Walker and Pittman draft a contract and have county attorney Jana Berg review it.