BY FLORENCE GILKESON
Water is that colorless liquid acquired simply by turning on the faucet or drawing it from the ground or a surface source. Sounds simple.
But the issue is complex when it comes to answering a multitude of questions about one of Moore County's most basic needs.
Randy Gould, the county's new public works director, attempted to answer many of those questions at an Aug. 18 work session of the Board of Commissioners.
"This is the most comprehensive, most detailed presentation on the water situation I have seen," Commissioner Tim Lea marveled at the conclusion of the presentation.
But all five commissioners wanted even more information.
Topping the list of questions is one that Gould and Ben Vaughn, the county's utility operations manager, cannot answer: the solution to the knotty question of how the county can collaborate with Robbins to incorporate that town's utilities into the water system or into the yet-to-be-developed North West Moore Water District.
That decision is up to the county and the town.
There's also the question about water needs for the Heart of North Carolina MegaPark, a 3,000-acre spread envisioned as spanning the Montgomery-Moore county line. The industrial-commercial park is just in the planning stages. But if it succeeds, it eventually will need an unspecified but big supply of water.
Where's it coming from? That's another question Gould cannot answer.
However, the public works director presented an impressive overview of existing population and water demands with projections of future population growth and water needs through the year 2030.
Today, Moore County Public Utilities supports a population of 24,990, with 12,216 water connections and an average daily demand of 2.6 million gallons. Pinehurst and environs account for more than half of that, with an average daily demand of 1.8 million gallons.
Next is Seven Lakes, with a 6,365 population and an average daily demand of less than half a million gallons. The remaining customers are in the East Moore Water District, Vass, Hyland Hills/Niagara, High Falls, The Carolina, Addor and 56 customers near Robbins. The East Moore district is actually a separate, self-supporting entity administered under contract by the county.
Maximum daily demand is 5.3 million gallons, with 3.9 million of those gallons in the Pinehurst area.
Counting all sources of water available to Moore County Public Utilities, the county system has access to more than 7.1 million gallons daily.
The problem with that availability figure is with its major source: mostly wells operating 24 hours daily in Pinehurst and Seven Lakes. Otherwise, the county has no water of its own.
Harnett County has a contract selling water to the East Moore District - which, through a contract with the county, allows its system to supply water to Pinehurst. Under that contract, Harnett County may sell Moore County as much as 2 millions gallons a day. Harnett is in the process of expanding its facilities and has offered to sell a percentage of its infrastructure to Moore.
The county also has contracts with Southern Pines to buy up to a million gallons daily - and with Aberdeen to buy 600,000 gallons daily. Small amounts are purchased from Montgomery County for an area near Robbins and from Siler City.
Aquifer Hard to Access
Past hydrology studies have shown that plenty of water is available in the aquifer beneath Moore County, but because of geological conditions it is difficult to extract in many areas.
Neighboring water plant operators are willing to sell water to Moore County. However, in times of severe drought, those water system owners are likely to curtail sales to other jurisdictions.
In addition to the Harnett expansion, interest is generated in Asheboro, Montgomery County, Robbins and even the water system formerly serving the now-closed Westpoint-Stevens textile plant near Wagram in Scotland County.
Yet another source is the drilling of more wells, a process that would use Moore County water and be reasonably priced. Construction cost of wells is estimated at $200,000, with each well expected to average 110 gallons per minute. Overall cost does not include land acquisition.
Existing water supplies are more than adequate for today's customers, but Gould made projections through 2030, when average daily demand would probably climb by 2 million gallons. To meet maximum daily demand in 2030, the county may need 9 million gallons per day (mgd). Population growth projections indicate addition of about 12,000 customers by 2030.
Each of the new water sources offers problems along with opportunities, starting with the cost of buying from an outside entity. On the other hand, it is costly to build water treatment plants and distribution systems.
Another major issue is the pesky interbasin transfer permit situation. State regulations restrict the amount of water that can be transferred from one river basin to another. A permit is required to transfer larger quantities, but the permit process is lengthy, complex and slow. Three basins meet in Moore County.
Interbasin transfer is a limiting factor for water purchases from Montgomery County and may also develop for Harnett County.
Asheboro is covered by the grandfather clause of the interbasin transfer process, and there are no permit issues with Robbins.
Montgomery County has 500,000 gallons a day available for sale, but it would take another 1.5 mgd to meet that 2030 maximum demand. Construction cost to tie in with Montgomery County is estimated at $3.1 million.
Harnett County plans to expand its capacity from 24 mgd to 36 mgd and has offered Moore County a 2 mgd capacity in the plant expansion at about $1.85 a gallon. It would cost an additional $3.7 million, plus the cost of improvements in both counties, to transfer water from Harnett to Moore.
Total cost for that Harnett tie-in would climb to $10.8 million by adding construction of a booster pump station and pipelines along N.C. 73 to Seven Lakes, $5 million for Moore County improvements and $3.7 million for the county's partial ownership of capacity.
The Asheboro plant has a 12 mgd capacity, of which 5.5 mgd is surplus. The city can sell at least 2 -millions gallons daily to Moore County.
Total cost there would come to a whopping $22.3 million, including $10.6 million to build a pipeline from the state zoo and $3.6 million for a pipeline from Robbins to Seven Lakes, plus a capacity charge and other infrastructure improvements.
The good news is: The city plans to install a 16-inch main, reflecting long-term planning.
The Westpoint-Stevens plant would likewise be costly, an estimated $38.1 million for up to 7 mgd to Moore County.
Lea also mentioned the availability of water from the city of Laurinburg and from Lee County, the latter presently selling water to a small population in Moore County. Laurinburg already has water lines built to Deercroft on U.S. 15-501, halfway to the Moore County line.
Back to Robbins
The prospect with the most appeal remains the town of Robbins. The town has a 1.5 mgd supply available from Bear Creek to serve about 3,750 customers. This cost was projected at $12.1 million, including $8.5 million to build a new water plant and $3.6 million to extend water lines to Seven Lakes.
Robbins Mayor Theron Bell and town board members attended the county work session. The commissioners discussed a variety of ways to continue negotiations and finally decided to ask the county attorney and the town attorney to confer and report back to their respective governing bodies.
In recent months, negotiations have centered on administration of the North West Moore Water District, which was authorized in 2004 with passage of a $16 million bond referendum. The district never got off the ground for lack of sufficient customer base.
New life was breathed into the district when the county secured approval from the Local Government Commission to continue the bond authorization until 2014. That means that the county must secure loans and grants sufficient to build the new system and begin work by 2014.
The major funding source is expected to be the U.S. Department of Agriculture through its rural development agency, which has provided millions of dollars to the very successful East Moore Water District, now in its third phase.
Among other funding sources for North West Moore is a federal State and Tribal Assistance Grant.
The county has proposed expansion of the North West district's service area to Robbins and Seven Lakes. This would enlarge the customer base to a size sufficient to support the bonded indebtedness.
With this concept come complications. There is the legal question about expansion of a district whose boundaries were spelled out in a bond authorization referendum. USDA-RD funds are designated for rural districts, and municipalities are usually excluded. (East Moore excludes Vass and Cameron and skirts Carthage and Southern Pines). Then approval would be needed by both the county and the town, and it probably would be a good idea to secure reaction from Seven Lakes residents.
In negotiations with Robbins, Moore County has proposed inclusion of all Robbins water facilities in the North West Moore Water District. The county's public utilities would contribute all water infrastructure and customers in the Seven Lakes area.
In return, Robbins would contribute its water infrastructure and customers. The infrastructure would include the reservoir, the raw water impoundment and intake structure. The district would assume debt service for the Robbins water system.
In a counterproposal, Robbins seeks establishment of a district authority with representation by both county and town. The district would pay for all Robbins water and sewer facilities at fair market value, and the county would pay for an independent rate study. Robbins also proposed conditions for development of the reservoir.
Sell Pinehurst System?
As comprehensive as the report was, the commissioners raised a number of related issues.
"The end users are going to have to pay for it," said Commissioner Larry Caddell, the board's representative in water talks with Pinehurst, Laurinburg and other areas.
Caddell said the Montgomery County purchase is too expensive for the quantity of water available.
Commissioner Jimmy Melton prefers to work in-house, meaning Robbins, but added that contracts with neighboring counties offer more security.
Commissioner Craig Kennedy pointed out that the state is already mandating water usage cutbacks in times of drought. He wanted to know how wells operated in Moore County would be affected by such mandates.
"We need to focus on a surface water option," Kennedy said.
Chairman Nick Picerno likes the concept of a reservoir.
"A reservoir is visible. I don't want to depend on an aquifer that I can't see," the chairman said.
Picerno said the county should redefine the mission of its public utilities program to make sure there is enough water to meet maximum need in 2030.
In proposing a reservoir for water from Deep River, Picerno warned that the intake should be acquired as soon as possible, because later it may be impossible or very difficult.
"Our whole scenario depends on service to rural customers," the chairman said.
Picerno followed this with speculation about the future of the Pinehurst system. Now the largest municipality in Moore County, the village is a far cry from rural.
Village leaders have tried for years to acquire their utilities. An offer to buy the system from the county fell through abruptly several years ago. The village recently tried unsuccessfully to acquire the utilities near Wagram.
"Should we sell the system to Pinehurst?" Picerno asked. "We would lose revenue, but also we'd lose the expense."
Picerno suggested that the county should at least study the idea. One estimate places the Pinehurst system's replacement value at $50 million.
"All I've heard is that it's not a doable thing. I want to know why," he said.
The commissioners moved on to other aspects of the issue, specifically water sources and negotiations with Robbins.
A subject not addressed was a source of water for Pine Forest, the huge development planned near West End. The commissioners recently approved a rezoning request but attached a series of stringent conditions, most notably the requirement that the developer find a source of water other than the county system and without withdrawing water from Nicks Creek. That plan is on hold with research under way on rezoning issues pertaining to Nicks Creek.
It will be up to the developer to find a water source, possibly competing with the county.
Contact Florence Gilkeson by e-mail at email@example.com.
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