The kids’ understand how important watershed protection is:
Haw River Assembly Puppet Show, Creek Action Day, 2011
The kids’ understand how important watershed protection is:
Haw River Assembly Puppet Show, Creek Action Day, 2011
Quick update on last week’s post Easthom: Letâ€™s Revisit Lake Jordan.
Several weeks ago Chapel Hill approved an amendment to language of the 2001 Water and Sewer Management, Planning and Agreement (WSMPBA) which gave OWASA much more leeway in tapping OWASAâ€™s 5 million gallon per day (5Mg/d) allocation from Lake Jordan. At that time there wasnâ€™t much sustained discussion of the long-term impacts or broader dimensions before adopting the amendment.
After midnight last Monday the Council decided to revisit the issue which creates an opportunity for more nuanced analysis and broader community input. That opportunity hasn’t been scheduled as of yet.
Tomorrow Council member Laurin Easthom is petitioning her colleagues to sharpen up their decision to allow Orange Water and Sewer (OWASA) tap Lake Jordan for less than dire and near catastrophic need.
Several weeks ago Chapel Hill approved an amendment to language of the 2001 Water and Sewer Management, Planning and Agreement (WSMPBA) which gave OWASA much more leeway in tapping OWASA’s 5 million gallon per day (5Mg/d) allocation from Lake Jordan. At that time there wasn’t much sustained discussion of the long-term impacts or broader dimensions before adopting the amendment.
I attended the Jan. 27th OWASA Board meeting where the proposed loosening of the reins was first discussed and then approved [MINUTES].
In selling the need for the modification to his fellow board members, Gordon Merklein, the Chair of OWASA’s Board and UNC’s Executive Director Real Estate Development related a conversation he had with his colleague Carolyn Elfland, UNC’s Associate Vice Chancellor for Campus Services. He said that Carolyn expressed concern that UNC wouldn’t have access to that 5Mg/d allocation and desired an agreement that solidified UNC’s future ability, through OWASA, to get at Lake Jordan’s supplies.
That was a bit disconcerting as local policymakers had fairly consistently rejected tapping Lake Jordan for anything other than the most extreme of needs.
Not only have elected folks the last two decades worked hard to secure and protect the watersheds OWASA claimed were sufficient to supply our needs for the next 100 years but adopted land-use and building ordinances that conserve the resources we already have.
Of course, as I said at the time (Water,Water,Everywhere…), at the base of this discussion is a decision, which the community has supported, to live within our local footprint. Time after time the community has been in the forefront of protecting that valuable asset – most recently challenging the County’s siting of a trash transfer station in a critical watershed area and questioning OWASA’s proposed timbering operations.
The loose language of the adopted amendment puts that community-supported principle at risk.
Luckily Carrboro, a party to the agreement, stepped in and rejected the current proposal (Water, Water, Everywhere? Carrboro Holds The Line).
In light of their rejection and the continued concerns of local environmentalist, I applaud Laurin’s effort to put this decision back before her colleagues for closer inspection.
Council Member Laurin Easthom petitions the Council to place the Water and Sewer Management, Planning, and Boundary Agreement resolution (2011-02-28/R-5) recently passed by the Council back on the agenda for further Council discussion.
The Carrboro Citizen has another report on Carrboro’s BOA’s decision not to amend the inter-local agreement governing access to Lake Jordan water.
I was bothered by this passage:
Board member Joal Hall Broun said the issue was not the lake water, but freeing up OWASA in the event of emergencies and allowing the utility to find ways to keep the cost of water from rising. Many people in the community canâ€™t afford increases in their water bills like those seen in recent years, she said.
Joal should recall that OWASA bills went up as this community met the conservation challenge. It was not the lack of water that increased fees but the unsustainable cost structure of OWASA and the way capital outlays are financed.
It boggles the mind that five years into our great conservation efforts local leadership still hasnâ€™t pushed OWASA to rework its financial model to reward good behavior.
[UPDATE] WCHL’s newest reporter Freda Kahen-Kashi has the story – Mayor Mark Chilton Finds Faults With OWASA Plan.
[UPDATE 2] Further information on the meeting from the Daily Tar Heel.
They quote Gordon Merklein, OWASA Chair and UNC’s Director of Real Estate as saying â€œJordan Lake is essential because the other water supplies cannot meet all of the expected needs of the community over the next 50 years.â€
Continuing, the DTH says Merklein said the water might be needed sooner than expected. â€œRecent droughts have emphasized the need for a diverse water supply as we face increasingly uncertain future conditions of climate, land use and hydrology,â€ he said.
If this is an accurate quote then we should be concerned.
Chapel Hill’s Sustainability Visioning Task Force probed OWASA on this point repeatedly last year. They were told that the Long Range Water Plan, which relies on the local watershed, had sufficient resources allocated for non-emergency use without tapping Lake Jordan for the next 50 years.
Chapel Hill’s Town Council was told the same thing several times, last year when OWASA presented the Long Range Plan and as recently as last week.
Gordon is right highlighting the uncertainty in land use policy. Until Chapel Hill adopts policies which specifically tie resource constraints to growth, OWASA and other local agencies will have difficulty planning for the future.
Our community has invested heavily in acquiring and maintaining a watershed that was projected to suit our needs far longer than 50 years.
With the recent flurry of statements coming from OWASA’s Board to the contrary, do we need to re-evaluate that previous assertion? Like I said last night, what has changed so dramatically?
Or, rather than bungled projections, is this a case of wanting to accommodate a much higher growth rate than local resources will ever sustain?
Following up on yesterday’s post (Water, Water, Everywhere…), I just heard that Carrboro’s Board of Alderman have decided not to approve OWASA’s proposed amendments.
I don’t have anymore detail at the moment so I’m not quite sure if they agreed with all the points I outlined or had a few additional ones I didn’t pursue. In any case, maybe Council will now take time to review the provisions and reconsider last night’s vote.
Look for updates tomorrow.
After a very long day and a very long evening. I finally got a chance to ask Council to take a more measured approach to approving OWASA’s proposed modifications to the agreement controlling access Lake Jordan’s water.
The proposal might have appeared technical in nature but, at the heart of it, had policy ramifications impacting our community’s environmental commitments, fiscal health and pledges of sustainability.
Unfortunately Council, by a 7 to 2 vote, passed the resolution tonight without reviewing those wider issues and doing due diligence.
What might the future hold then?
1) Non-emergency use of the 5 million gallons per day (5MGd) to meet unsustainable growth patterns.
Current utilization is 6 to 7 MGd per day. No justification was made for doubling our water usage profile by tapping Lake Jordan for new non-emergency uses. Sadly, Council decided not to limit water allocations to clear emergency conditions.
UNC has already stated several times that it is keenly interested in securing this supply. If the new supply is only to function as an “insurance policy”, why that sharp interest?
2) As OWASA Chair Merklein put it so well this evening – there is only room for one more straw into Lake Jordan.
Any of the 5MG/d we draw down from Lake Jordan will have to come through either Cary’s or Durham’s infrastructure. OWASA clearly suggested that Chapel Hill will eventually rely on Durham’s “straw”.
Given that, I don’t think there’s any scenario involving long term draw downs through Durham which don’t incorporate significant additional costs to the OWASA customer base.
Why? As Durham has already signaled, as recently as 2008, it wants its Lake Jordan intake partners to participate in the financing and build-out of that new “straw”. If OWASA doesn’t directly underwrite its part of the project, it is hard to imagine that Durham and its other partners won’t charge a higher fee for water in order to recover their expenses. Either case, the fiscal impact was totally ignored this evening.
3) When OWASA’s 2010 Long Range Water Plan was presented to the Sustainability Task Force last year, we were told that supplies were sufficient for the next 50 years. The only “tight spot” were the years just prior to 2035 when the Rock Quarry reservoir comes online.
That point was reiterated this evening by Gene Pease, who spoke of a meeting he had just last week where he was told the same thing. The maximum anticipated shortfall is well less than 15%, very much less than the 5MG/d Council just approved, so why the hurry to move ahead?
OWASA stated approval was needed this year to secure the allocation, and I accept that, but that doesn’t excuse Council from putting some constraints on non-emergency allocations.
4) Water is required for growth. That point was well-understood when our joint community’s financed OWASA’s acquisition of a watershed that was supposed to meet our very long term needs. This community has fought hard – continues to fight hard – to maintain the best environmental standards within that watershed.
Council repudiated that tough fight this evening when they essentially agreed that OWASA could “borrow” as much as 5MG/d from Lake Jordan (an impaired water source).
Worse, we don’t know what constrains OWASA from tapping Lake Jordan for “non-emergency” reasons. If Council or Carrboro approves one too many East54 type developments – is that considered grounds for purchasing resources to fuel inappropriate growth?
5) Finally, as Council member Jim Ward pointed out this evening, just knowing we can tap another 5MG/d makes it tough to sell even more stringent water conservation policies. An important negative feedback loop has been removed.
Tonight’s misstep, of course, is part of a wider problem which our community and, especially, its current leadership has yet to successfully grapple with – are there constraints to growth?
Are we willing to purchase resources on the open-market to fuel an unsustainable level of growth? What, exactly, are we willing to trade away in building our future?
Unfortunately, the answers this evening were loss of local control of our water, loss of community reliance on local resources, loss of a commitment to live within our own footprint.
I’ve been highlighting the importance of treating the Bolin Creek watershed as a regional resource suffering from our piecemeal approach establishing adequate policies for its protection.
The whole basin requires, and deserves, a greater level of cooperation between Carrboro, Chapel Hill, Orange County, Orange Water and Sewer Authority(OWASA), the State’s Divisions of Water Quality (DENR-DWQ) and the Corps of Engineers to maintain and enhance its value as natural and vital resource.
Bolin Creek, though impaired from Carrboro to Lake Jordan, still retains many charms.
Andrew Vanderveer has documented a few in the following film (hat tip to The Friends of Bolin Creek).
Yes, local forum SqueezeThePulp often loses its value when “noise drowns signal” and discussions devolve into vitriolic snarkiness (of which, I admit, I have cast a stone or two).
Sometimes, though, there’s a hopeful sign that this “alternative to OrangePolitics” online community is growing in maturity and utility.
A case in point, a Mark Peter’s spawned thread on the recent Board of Commissioner decisions potentially harming our county’s debt rating. The thread, BOCC to Max Debt Capacity with County Campus, draws contributions from former OWASA board member TerriB and apophthegmatic Brian D. Voyce on governmental debt service, debt ceiling and debt oversight.
I believe most residents of Chapel Hill haven’t internalized the consequences of our current long-term financial obligations, the impact of a reduced bond rating and the imprudence of further acquisition of unnecessary debt.
Simply, bonds aren’t “free money” and we’re going to have “to pay the piper” sooner (and greater) than most folks understand.
BTW, TerriB has an interesting rant on public meetings that’s worth a quick check.
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