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Jordan Lake plans rankle mayor, board

By Kirk Ross
Staff Writer
CARRBORO — The Orange Water and Sewer Authority may be based in Carrboro, but that didn’t stop its hometown’s leaders from tearing into a proposal to allow the utility to draw a water allocation from Jordan Lake.
At its meeting Tuesday night at Town Hall, the Carrboro Board of Aldermen refused to agree to amendments to an inter-local agreement on water and sewer boundaries and planning.
The amendments would allow OWASA to draw its five-million-gallon-per-day allocation from Jordan Lake through existing water connections running from Cary to Durham. OWASA representatives have said that the line would be used in the event of emergencies and when water levels are very low. Not applying for the allocation now, OWASA officials have argued, means risking losing it altogether.
Mayor Mark Chilton voiced strong objection to the plan, starting with a sharply worded critique of land-use planning in the Jordan Lake watershed and its consequences in terms of water quality.
“It washes off the streets of Greensboro,” he said. “It includes every parking lot from here to Wake Forest University, practically.”
Chilton said it was a long-running policy in Orange County to seek a much more tightly managed watershed. The community has made difficult and costly decisions like allowing the expansion of the American Stone Company’s quarry off N.C. 54 in order to later convert it to an OWASA reservoir.
Chilton said the Jordan Lake water is not needed. Recent strides in conservation, he said, mean the community can live with its current water supply.
“Conservation efforts have been more effective than anybody would have guessed 10 years ago,” he said.
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 can’t afford increases in their water bills like those seen in recent years, she said.
The board voted 6-1, with Broun dissenting, to adopt only a portion of OWASA’s proposed amendments and asked that other local governments be contacted regarding their decisions to approve the plans.
On Monday night, the Chapel Hill Town Council approved the OWASA proposal, but not before several council members raised concerns that the additional supply would lead to more development.
On Tuesday, their counterparts in Carrboro expressed a similar worry.
“To live sustainably with the earth,” board member Dan Coleman said, “is more than a catch phrase.”

4 Responses

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  1. Terri Buckner

    Thanks to the BOA for not following the Chapel Hill Town Council and approving this plan. We need to live within our own boundaries, ensuring that development doesn’t exceed what we can sustain locally.

  2. Will Raymond

    Joal should recall that OWASA bills went up as this community met the conservation challenge. It is not the lack of water that is controlling 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 hasn’t pushed OWASA to rework its financial model to reward good behavior.

  3. Mark Marcoplos

    Actually what we are witnessing is society adjusting to the true cost of water. We didn’t have the foresight to understand that we would run up against the limits of the avaiability of this resource. It was treated as a bottomless cup. Now we are learning that it costs way more than we anticipated. The good news is that there are so many more ways to save water (and energy).

  4. Robin Cutson

    Terri Buckner and Will Raymond make excellent points. And for those who support OWASA taking water from Jordan Lake—remember that in 2008 the AP reported Progress Energy officials warned that the drought could force a shutdown of the Harris nuclear reactor because Lake Jordan levels had dropped so low. So what happens in the future when even more water is being taken from Jordan Lake? The bottom line is that we need to stop residential development and concentrate on low water use commercial development (such as retail). Residential development costs more in taxes than it generates—the more residential, as opposed to commercial growth, an area has, the more it goes into a financial hole unless taxes and fees are raised which drives out the poor and middle class. Chapel Hill has few businesses and lots of residential development and yet continues to approve residential development and “mixed used” development (which generally contains more residential than commercial and therefore continues the problem). Soon we will be shipping our trash to some other area and now we want to tap into other water supplies. This is not sustainable growth; nor is it progressive or liberal. And considering the nuclear power plant–it is also irresponsible.