Durham sizes up quarry

Drought has city looking to increase water storage capacity

Staff WriterDecember 6, 2005 

Mired in a prolonged drought despite the cold rain falling Monday night, the City Council inched closer to utilizing an old rock quarry to ease future shortages in Durham's water supply.

Durham has been looking at using the old Teer Quarry on the city's north side for nearly 30 years because of its potential to hold as much as1.3 billion gallons of raw water. Once full, early estimates say up to 9 million gallons of water a day could be drawn back out -- enough to supply about one third of the city's daily usage.

"It's a ready-made way to add to our capacity," said Patrick Baker, the Durham City manager. "I don't think we would be putting this much money and resources into it unless we were serious about doing it."

On Monday, the council voted 7-0 to spend $187,550 to complete environmental studies and an engineering assessment of what it would take to bring the quarry into use. The city already has spent more than $300,000 in studies to confirm the feasibility of using the quarry for water storage. The city has signed an option to buy the big hole from its current owner, Hanson Aggregates Southeast Inc.

Durham already has reservoirs on two of its three major water sources -- the Little River and the Flat River -- but those lakes have been badly depleted during the current drought, forcing mandatory water restrictions.

The city can also draw water from the Eno River, but that source is dammed farther upstream by Orange County, and the river's flow can slow to a trickle in extremely dry conditions. City officials say the quarry could retain water pumped out of the nearby Eno during the spring rainy season.

Once the current study is complete, the City Council is considered likely to spend the money to put the plan into action -- estimated to be more than $11 million. If approved, the quarry could be in use by 2010.

Before the council's 7 p.m. meeting, about 20 people marched from the Durham County courthouse three blocks to City Hall as part of a silent protest against violence in the community. The march was organized in the wake of a quadruple homicide in the city in November. Cheryl Smith, whose son was killed in a separate November shooting, walked at the front of in the group.

Later, members of the council elected last month were sworn in. They included incumbent Mayor Bill Bell, Mayor Pro Tem Cora Cole-McFadden and council member Howard Clement III. Newcomer Mike Woodard, who won the seat representing the city's Ward 3, also took the oath.

Before outgoing Ward III council member John Best Jr. gave up his seat, he gave a lengthy speech that lashed out at the media and made light off his oft reported personal and legal troubles.

"These last four years have been interesting. I've been through two [city] managers, two wives and four lawyers," quipped Best, whose farewell address ran about 15 minutes. "Now it's time to relax, thanks to Mr. Woodard and the voters. I've been given a vacation, and I need one."

Staff writer Michael Biesecker can be reached at 956-2421 or mbieseck@newsobserver.com.

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