Lake Adger can’t be used as a reservoir in the near future

Published 8:38 am Monday, November 13, 2017

Commissioners discuss future of Polk’s water system


COLUMBUS – Polk County Commissioners are preparing to make decisions on the future of its water system as a contract with Inman-Campobello Water District (ICWD) to administer and maintain the county’s system has just four years left.

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Commissioners met with ICWD General Manager Jeff Walker on Monday, Nov. 6 and heard Walker give details about Polk’s system, including that it operates in the red.


Walker began by saying ICWD is a special purpose district that was created in 1954 with five appointed board members and 12,000 water accounts. ICWD is permitted to construct an 8 MGD (million gallons per day) water treatment plant.


Polk County agreed to allow Broad River Water Authority (BRWA) and ICWD to run a 20-inch water line through Polk County, which ICWD paid for. The line was constructed in 2008 and Polk County has since extended water lines throughout the county, with the county receiving water from BRWA, which is administered by ICWD. Polk’s first customers were served in 2009 and the contract between Polk and ICWD was amended in 2012 and will end on Dec. 31, 2021.


Polk County currently has 47.29 miles of water lines, with 29.7 miles being 12-inch lines and 7.8 miles being 20-inch lines, according to Walker. Polk’s system has 154 fire hydrants, 365 valves, one 132,000-gallon water tank and two pump stations, Walker said.


Polk County currently has 187 active water accounts and 172 inactive water accounts. Inactive accounts are accounts that have a water tap, but they do not yet receive county water. Walker said Polk customers consume 129,000 gallons per day and there are 38,700 gallons flushed per day.


Of the 129,000 gallons a day used by Polk customers, a little over 60,000 gallons a day is used by the Tryon International Equestrian Center (TIEC). Walker said prior to TIEC being a user, ICWD had to flush that area and now it’s being consumed.


Walker said ICWD does not make money from running Polk County’s water system.

In fiscal year 2017, from July 1, 2016-June 30, 2017, Walker said the gross revenue from Polk County’s system was $153,400 with the cost of water at $82,600 and the cost of labor at $67,035. Walker said nearly $20,000 of the cost of water is from flushing because there are not enough customers in the system. And the cost of labor doesn’t include costs to ICWD for items such as customer service and billing.


“The net revenue would be less than zero,” said Walker. “We don’t look at it as a negative. Inman-Campobello is already employing those people. My labor costs aren’t going to change if Polk County is not a part of our system.”


Walker also said based on Polk customers over the past nine years, Polk will still likely be under 1,000 customers in the next 20 years.


The first nine years, Polk County averaged 20 new customers per year. Walker said at that trend, Polk would have 581 customers by 2037 and if that number were doubled, Polk would have 981 customers by 2037.


Commissioner chair Tommy Melton asked how many fire hydrants are on Polk’s system. Walker said 154.


Melton also asked how much water Walker thinks TIEC will increase. Walker said TIEC reps have said they can’t see it being more than 250,000 gallons per day and that seems reasonable to him.


Melton asked if ICWD is ready for that many gallons per day. Walker said he feels like they are.


“We recommend strongly TIEC build a water reservoir,” Walker said.


Walker said ICWD has suggested an underground tank as an above ground tank would be unsightly.


Commissioners thanked Walker for the presentation. Commissioner Ray Gasperson said he and Walker have had their differences over the years, mainly over Lake Adger.


Gasperson said he knows if the county runs its own system they will have to pull money from taxpayers just to make it work.

“Every time we run a water line, we pull (money) from fund balance,” Gasperson said. “Thereby, everybody in the county pays for it. I’d love to see us operating like an enterprise fund (self-sufficient).”


Walker said he agrees with Gasperson, that Polk’s system needs to stand on its own. Walker said Inman-Campobello just simply wants to provide water for those who need it at a rate they can afford. He said he thinks that’s why ICWD has one of the lowest rates in the Upstate, if not the lowest, adding Columbus may have lower outside rates than ICWD.


Gasperson said he’s been a commissioner for nine years and when he was first elected the county was in the process of purchasing Lake Adger.

“At that time, we were talking about, it won’t be long and we’ll be drawing water from Lake Adger,” Gasperson said.


Gasperson said Walker has pointed out that is no longer a realistic view anymore.


Gasperson said he thinks the county needs to differentiate between the water system the county has and Lake Adger. He said the county in one way has a regionalized system between BRWA, Polk and ICWD and then the county has Lake Adger.


“The county has to recognize that we have Lake Adger that may or may not be used in the future,” Gasperson said. “And realize it could be decades out.”


Walker said ICWD has a permit to build an 8 MGD water plant. He said Lake Adger is for the future.


“Why utilize it now if it doesn’t make any financial sense to do so?” Walker asked.


Walker said there was once a myth that ICWD was going to build a treatment plant right on the lake and that was never a possibility. He said ICWD was talking about more to the west of Lake Adger.


The county opened the discussion up for citizen questions. Sky Conard asked if it would not be prudent to have Lake Adger as a water source.


Walker said it would be great, but Northbrook has it tied up for about 40 years.


“I don’t think I’ll ever see water coming out of that reservoir (Lake Adger),” Walker said. “There’s too many other options. Right now, there’s too many options to make that something we have to go after.”


Commissioner Shane Bradley asked as of right now if there are any taxpayer dollars going into supporting Polk’s water system.


County manager Marche Pittman said not for operations, but the county does set aside money in the budget.


Bradley asked if the county doesn’t come up with some kind of an agreement to run the water system, it will be back on the taxpayers’ backs? Pittman said if everything stays the same, yes it will.


“There’s no way you’re going to make enough money to operate the system,” Pittman said. “In my opinion.”


Bradley said the county could have taxpayers in this county who will never use the water, “paying for a system they do not want.”


Melton said he doesn’t know for a fact they do not want the system.


“I know they don’t because they’ve told me,” Bradley said. “I’ve heard from citizens in my district that talk to me every day. That’s a big portion.”


Gasperson pointed out some good aspects of the water system, such as schools that are now served with public water and the number of fire hydrants which is a health and safety issue. Gasperson said that’s why he says the system needs to stand on its own, even if ICWD is willing to continue to run the system for the county.


“We’re not looking to do major expansions anymore,” Gasperson said.


Bradley said he wants it to be understood that he doesn’t think water in Polk County is a bad thing, but he thinks it’s a burden that should be put on all the taxpayers.


Melton said he wished the towns would be willing to start a water authority. He mentioned in 2007 and 2008 people coming to county meetings crying because their wells were running dry from one of the worst droughts the county has seen.


“It was a blessing we were able to combine with BRWS and ICWD,” Melton said. “It would be difficult for me to vote to get rid of Lake Adger. I think it’s a safety net.”


Bradley asked Walker what would make Lake Adger more valuable in a drought.


Walker said it would be more valuable if you could draw it down to provide water to customers, but it’s restricted by Northbrook how far you can draw the lake down.


He said right now, with ICWD’s connections to other systems, he doesn’t see a need for Lake Adger.


Walker said BRWA can use up to 13 million gallons per day and uses six million so that leaves them with seven more million gallons per day.


“I just don’t see how we get to Lake Adger anytime in the near future,” Walker said. “Polk County is not even (using) a half a million gallons a day.”


Walker said anyone with questions, whether it be customers of Polk’s water system or residents, is free to contact him or ICWD and they will be glad to talk.


Gasperson asked if Walker would come back with another update at least a year from now and Walker said he will come whenever the county asks.