Politicians and environmentalists in Fayetteville say they strongly oppose allowing towns in western Wake County to use more water from Jordan Lake unless they spend millions of dollars expanding utilities.
About 50 people attended a public hearing Thursday night at Fayetteville’s City Hall to comment on a proposal by the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. It would increase the average daily allotment of water for Cary, Apex, Morrisville and the Wake County portion of RTP from 24 million to 33 million gallons.
Many of them voiced concerns about the proposed transfer, citing fears of drought. This was the second public hearing on the proposal. One was earlier this month in Apex.
The Environmental Management Commission will likely make a decision on the proposal in March.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The News & Observer
According to the proposal, the water would come from Jordan Lake, which drains into the Cape Fear River that supplies water to southeastern North Carolina cities such as Fayetteville and Wilmington. Cary and the other municipalities would put most of their water into the Neuse River instead of returning it to the Cape Fear River.
“It’s unclear, at best, why that return is not a criteria for this transfer,” said N.C. State Rep. Rick Glazier, a Democrat from Fayetteville, at Thursday’s meeting.
An independent study found the proposal would have no significant impact on places such as Fayetteville.
But some in Fayetteville have said the study was flawed, and they fear droughts or climate change could hinder the city’s ability to grow.
In the 33 million gallon proposal, 2 million gallons would be returned to the Cape Fear via a new water treatment plant in New Hill.
Cary, Apex and Morrisville came together to build the $280 million plant in New Hill, which has a capacity of 18 million gallons.
Glazier was not alone Thursday in wondering why only 11 percent of that capacity will be used.
Cary’s director of water resources, Steve Brown, didn’t speak at the meeting but later said it all comes down to cost.
To get most wastewater out to the far western reaches of Wake County where the New Hill plant is, Brown said, “would still require many millions of dollars more in infrastructure.”
“Our long-term plans just don’t have the incredible capital funding it would take to do that,” he said.
At Thursday’s meeting, longtime Fayetteville lawyer Rudolph Singleton said the city shouldn’t have to face potential droughts because politicians in Wake County don’t want to pay more to expand utilities.
He also expressed concern that DENR won’t be as strict with the western Wake towns, “who are more populous, unfortunately more wealthy and unfortunately more influential” than Fayetteville.
Candace Williams, a former executive director of the Sandhills Area Land Trust, had similar concerns.
“There is a lot of money north of us on this river,” she said. “And all I can say is I hope (DENR officials) give great thought to this decision. Because the decision will bear weight for future generations that have to live with that decision.”
‘Go with the alternative’
Officials from Cary, Durham, Wake County and the Triangle J Council of Governments came to Thursday’s meeting to try to ease Fayetteville residents’ fears.
“The proposed project is not expected to affect downstream flows in the Cape Fear River,” Wake County Manager Jim Hartmann said.
Doug Peters, president and CEO of the Fayetteville Regional Chamber, said he’s worried nevertheless.
“While we are sympathetic to the needs of growing communities in Cary, Apex, Morrisville and Wake County, we want everyone to know... we are growing, as well,” Peters said. “Our community is on the rise.”
Glenn Adams, a Cumberland County Commissioner, agreed with Peters.
“We are not being greedy and saying, ‘Don’t use the water, we’re not allowing you to do that,’ ” Adams said. “No. We understand that’s important to you. But we really urge DENR and the state of North Carolina to go with the alternative of replacing the water in the Cape Fear River.”
Deanna Rosario, the environmental outreach coordinator with Sustainable Sandhills, said that if the flow of the Cape Fear drops off, Fayetteville will be left without options.
“We can’t go take it from the Pee Dee (River),” Rosario said. “We can’t take it from the reservoir that half of Cumberland County gets it from because that’s disappearing, too.
“So Raleigh, Apex, Cary? You may borrow our water, but please give it back.”