ICWD answers Bulletin questions regarding water contract

Published 1:17 am Friday, July 10, 2015


By Leah Justice


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After hearing 29 Polk residents speak against a proposed agreement to share water resources between the county and the Inman-Campobello Water District (ICWD), the Bulletin asked ICWD general manager Jeff Walker questions.

Residents spoke at a public work session held by the Polk County Board of Commissioners on June 29. All residents who spoke voiced concerns about the contract with main concerns being over the 75-year term of the contract. Other concerns raised included the needed dredging of Lake Adger and many residents urged county commissioners to hire an expert prior to adopting the agreement.

Following are questions and answers from the Bulletin to Walker regarding the proposed agreement. There were a total of eight questions. The first four questions are included in today’s edition. Look for the final four questions to Walker in the Bulletin’s weekend edition and answers from Polk County Commissioner Chair Tom Pack next week.

The county’s next work session regarding the contract is scheduled for Monday, July 20, with the county’s regular meeting beginning at 6 p.m. and the water contract work session following the regular meeting.


1) It seems the public is the most concerned about the 75-year term of the agreement. Why so long? Why could the agreement not be for 20-year renewable terms?


75 years is indeed a very long time and just like the contract as a whole, it needs to be carefully considered and fully understood so I completely understand why this would be concerning to some.  It’s not a simple answer I’m afraid but here goes.

It’s important to understand that the ICWD already has a great water source in the Broad River Water Authority (BRWA).  It’s the ICWD’s goal to continue to purchase water from BRWA because that would mean that we are still acquiring treated water of a wonderful quality, at the best price for our customers.

However, perhaps decades from now, the day will surely come when purchasing from BRWA either isn’t mutually beneficial, or when growth in their system, or ours, or both, means that they can’t provide us with the quantity of water we need.  When either of those scenarios or one we haven’t thought of happens, the ICWD has to be prepared.  We do not have the luxury of waiting to see.  We have to plan for the decades to come, now.  That is why we have already purchased the property, completed the engineering, and received a permit to construct an intake on the North Pacolet River that could feed the ICWD’s future water treatment facility.  The permit is for 8 million gallons per day (MGD).  Concerning the agreement, the idea is to make sure BRWA is the first priority.  Then, the next priority is the future ICWD water treatment facility.  The final priority in terms of water resources would be those in Polk County.

With BRWA and the future ICWD water treatment facility in mind, no one knows how long it will be until the ICWD needs to access water in Polk County but, we just cannot see how it won’t at least be 20 years and only then in a severe drought.  It could easily be 30 years or more.  Growth is very hard to predict over several decades but none that have looked at it can see the ICWD needing more than 8 MGD in even 50 years and that includes customers in Polk County (but not the towns) and yes, we are accounting for the Tryon International Equestrian Center.  Since it will be say, 30 years before water in Polk County will likely be used, the agreement needs to be really, as long as we can make it so that if things should fall apart between the ICWD and Polk County, the investment the ICWD has made in Polk County will still have some value remaining.

However, and this is critical for folks to understand, there is no scenario in which water would be accessed in Polk County for use at the future ICWD water treatment facility, and that this would somehow leave residents in Polk County without the water they need.  This water system would never agree to a scenario in which we take water, even though we paid for it, and not leave enough for the county.  There were two provisions built into the agreement to protect against this.  First, 2 MGD is reserved for the county should it ever wish to build its own water treatment facility and 2 MGD is at least double what is expected to be needed 50 years from now.  But much better than that, for the entire 75 year term, should the ICWD build the water treatment facility, Polk County can purchase treated water from us at the actual cost it takes to produce it.  Since the ICWD water treatment facility would be many times larger than anything Polk County would ever need to build, the cost of the water will be many, many times lower and again, it’s for 75 years.

So yes, 75 years is a long time.  But once one considers that what ICWD is paying for won’t likely be accessed for 30 years or more, it’s easy to see why, in my opinion, 75 years is the term for that part of the contract.  Then, what is also true is that for that entire length of time, Polk County will have a much lower cost option for treated drinking water than they would otherwise have.  It’s entirely possible that 50 or more years from now, water is being treated at the ICWD water treatment facility, and that the sole source of raw water feeding that facility is the North Pacolet River.�� Even in that scenario, Polk County would still have access to treated water at a much lower cost than they could hope to have otherwise.


2) Is part of the agreement for ICWD to dredge Lake Adger?


It is not the goal of the agreement for the ICWD to dredge Lake Adger.  The thought has always been, at least in my mind, that the dam is going to have to be improved as required by DENR (N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources) and additionally, that the silt needs to be stopped from entering the lake.  Of course, dredging the marina area is also needed but if the silt is not stopped, dredging the lake will not be worth much for very long.  So, there are these two very important items that need to be done and it would appear that it’s the county’s responsibility to do them.  I guess the county could leave the silt issue alone if they chose to do so for a while longer but the improvements to the dam cannot be ignored since those improvements are being mandated from a regulatory authority.

From the ICWD perspective, this is another part of what makes this agreement good for both parties.  If the ICWD pays for the mandatory improvements to the dam, that more or less frees the county to pay for dealing with the silt.  That’s a pretty big win for the county in my opinion but it is also a win for the ICWD who, as I described in the previous answer, is doing its best to plan for the long term so that the customers of the water system will have the water they need, even during a drought, at a cost they can afford.  Let me add that when I say the “customers of the water system” I am talking about the customers in the ICWD service area and those in Polk County.



3) Is part of the agreement for ICWD to repair and maintain the dam for the 75 years? If so, why (that seems like a major investment for ICWD not to own the dam) and if not, how long does ICWD plan to repair and maintain the dam?


It has not been part of the agreement for the ICWD to improve the dam to DENR’s requirements and then to bear the full cost to maintain it for the full 75 years.  I haven’t read it yet, but I understand that language to that effect is in the draft that the county edited and will be in the draft of the agreement the ICWD is to consider after the county’s next work session.  At this point all I have to offer on this is that the ICWD will consider this idea as we start to review the latest draft of the agreement.  I can say that I understand why the county would take this stance.  I would assume the thought is the county is, in essence, selling water rights and since it is, the county should not have any responsibility for the dam from that point forward.  On one hand that makes a lot of sense.  On the other hand, when one considers that 2 MGD is reserved for the county no matter what and that treated water at actual cost will be available to the county for the duration of the agreement, the county has a stake in the future of the dam as well.

So, I don’t know what our response will be to that idea.  We will weigh everything out and decide.


4) People against the contract seem to think there is an unnecessary rush to approve the agreement. With 7 years left on the current agreement for ICWD to operate Polk’s water system, what is the rush? Or is there a rush? Why now? Why not wait until closer to the end of the current agreement?


There is not a rush from the ICWD perspective.  The ICWD as I described before, has the BRWA connection and access to 8 MGD more, so if Polk County were not part of the equation, the ICWD would be fine for the short term and long term.  That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t make a lot of sense to us to work with Polk County and end up with an agreement that is good for both parties.  It just means that there is no rush from our perspective.

That said, I can’t speak for the county but I don’t believe the county can wait another seven years to make the improvements to the dam and obviously, it would seem unwise to wait another seven years to deal with the silt issue in the lake.  So, if the county is going to partner with the ICWD in a way that will help in these two areas, the time would seem to be now.  Also, we’ve already been working on this for at least a year and we are not there yet.  It’s understandable as these types of arrangements certainly aren’t done all of the time and while the concept is rather simple, the details get fairly complicated.  Regardless, if we had started this process with just a year or so left on the current contract, based on what we’ve experienced so far, it would appear that it wouldn’t have been enough time and that certainly would have been a mistake.