Johnston County and the City of Raleigh are joining forces to ensure both have ample water in the years to come.
The reasons for their new partnership – known as an interlocal agreement – are simple. Both the county and the city expect to grow, and both expect to draw water for their growing populations from the Neuse River basin. Working together makes more sense than stepping on each others’ toes, officials on both sides say.
With the partnership, “both the county and the city could conceivably leverage greater rate-payer benefit from joint planning efforts that eliminate duplicate planning efforts,” the agreement states.
Put another way, the agreement will curbs costs for the county and the city, which can then pass those savings on to customers, said Chandra Coats, Johnston County’s director of public utilities.
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“If there are options to work together, instead of duplicating efforts, we should be able to save costs associated with duplication of the planning efforts,” Coats said. “Economies of scale will usually produce better user rates.”
The Johnston County Board of Commissioners approved the agreement Oct. 6. The Raleigh City Council did so the next day.
Under the agreement, Raleigh’s water-planning consultant, Hazen & Sawyer, will be in charge of hydrological testing along the Neuse River. When that work is done, Johnston County will reimburse Raleigh half of the estimated $20,000 cost.
Hazen & Sawyer is a national environmental engineering firm that has done work for both Raleigh and Johnston County. In 2010, Johnston used the firm for engineering services related to a grant application.
Hazen & Sawyer will “give us an overall view of some of our options – which ones are most feasible,” Coats said of drawing more water from the river basin.
The Neuse River has high nitrogen levels, a result of agricultural runoff. This has robbed the river of oxygen, leading to fish kills.
The interlocal agreement is “a recognition that new water-resource development anywhere in the U.S., but especially in the Neuse River Basin, is going to be a difficult proposition,” said Kenny Waldrup, assistant director of Raleigh’s public utilities department.
The city and county are looking for ways to store water, including new reservoirs, Coats said. Also, Johnston County plans to build a new water intake on the Neuse between Smithfield and Princeton and wants to consult with Raleigh on options.
“There are opportunities to avoid duplications in planning and to recognize early any options that might be harmful or helpful for more than one entity,” Waldrup said. “I think this is good government planning.”