Both the N&O and the Herald-Sun have good coverage of the drought and water supply discussion that took place at last week's Council work session; hat tip to Ray Gronberg for highlighting Carrboro mayor Mark Chilton's opposition to any new intake until and unless Durham adopts a policy on growth that mirrors that in his town and Chapel Hill.
Actually, that'd make a good new verse for the insanely catchy and, well, just insane "It's Carrboro" theme song: "We got a mayor in Chilton / Who likes to slow growth down / And if you don't like it / No flow for your town! (Everybody: It's Carrboro, it's Carrboro!)"
Anyway, back to planet Durham. (No less crazy, just differently crazy.) It's good to see the City aggressively pursuing a second connection to Jordan Lake or the alternative scheme, which could involve Durham helping to fund an expansion of Cary's water treatment plant to help it draw more than the current 40 million gallons per day of water maximum -- the towns alloted draws from Jordan Lake are allowed to claim 100 million gallons per day, but there's no intake or treatment capacity to do so.
Deputy city manager (and now head-honcho candidate) Ted Voorhees noted in Thursday's work session that it wouldn't make sense for Durham to invest in a second intake unless the city received an increased allocation from Jordan Lake beyond the current 10 MGD in an upcoming round of state environmental review. At the current draw levels, Voorhees noted that the alternative -- making a long-term investment in Cary's infrastructure to allow for an economical draw of Durham's entitlement through that town's system -- is more cost-effective.
One thing does seem sure, though, and that's that Jordan Lake now seems more likely than Lake Michie to be the future of Durham's water draw. Though Voorhees stressed that the City has gotten no official guidance from state officials on the subject, the vibe coming out of the capitol suggests that the state considers Jordan Lake a much more reliable source of water than Lake Michie in the long run.
Reliance on Jordan Lake also makes sense in light of Durham's southern growth; Jordan Lake and South Durham share a common water basin, whereas North Durham's in a separate zone, and the state has a tendency to be less comfortable with so-called interbasin transfers of water.
Additionally, the state's concerned that expansion of Lake Michie could draw from the already-stressed Falls Lake watershed, impacting our larger neighbor to the southeast, Raleigh. Raleigh didn't apply for an allocation from Jordan Lake last time around; they might do so this time, but since they're not in the same water basin as Jordan, it's not clear how successful that effort might be.
The City would still work to buy up land around Lake Michie, Voorhees noted, but might make those purchases more "opportunistically" -- they still serve to protect from intrusions on the watershed, but expansion of that basin isn't likely to be in the cards soon.
Instead, Voorhees is proposing to Council that the body resolve for Durham to "take the lead" in regional water supply planning, including negotiating for the second (western) Jordan Lake intake and creating interlocal agreements. The partnership might involve the creation of a single water treatment plant serving the multiple partners -- Durham, Chatham and Orange counties, and the Orange Water and Sewer Authority.
There is a certain time-pressure involved in moving forward, as Chatham is weighing an interconnect of its own to Cary to meet its growing water needs, and Durham would certainly prefer having as many financial partners as possible on the western intake and treatment plant.
Voorhees emphasized that any such effort would be framed as a regional one, with partners in the program making decisions about allocation needs and water policies jointly -- an approach that seemed to assuage City Council elder Howard Clement, who's been asking for a regional look at water throughout the current crisis.
One might think a regional approach to the problem could assuage Mark Chilton, too, though as Gronberg notes in the H-S, it's not clear how much influence he'll have on the decision.
Hey, we're all for regionalism here at BCR, too. As long as we don't have to appear in any scenes in "It's Carrboro," that is.
Speaking of our H-2-Ohno situation, Council got an update from Vicki Westbrook and her water wizards on Thursday; they also spoke to a resolution passed by the Durham Planning Commission, which seems to have gained a decent traction with members of Council.
First, the good news: the water levels "above the intakes" (i.e., premium water) have risen back to 49% of capacity, with Lake Michie actually approaching the spillover point. The City has devised a way to pump water out of Michie and into the Little River Reservoir, where there's significantly more basin to be filled.
Additionally, the North Durham water treatment plant will soon make treated wastewater available for pick-up for uses like irrigation and landscaping; watch Durham's web site for details (now, just maybe, Barry will get those tomatoes this summer....)
Among the items of interest from the discussion of the Planning Commission's recommendations and other water updates:
- City staff noted that all the leaks identified in the water distribution system rehabilitation program in the CIP a few years ago have been taken care of now; most of those were issues at the tap near the valve. Still, the city has 167 miles of unlined cast-iron pipe to be remedied, and there still remain 3 MGD unaccounted for in the system. (We here at BCR would still like to know -- if we're rehabbing buried pipes, why not bury the electrical lines at the same time?)
- Water-efficient fixtures are being installed in all City facilities during scheduled renovation, and the City's kicking around a water-efficient toilet rebate program. The Council also discussed the pros-and-cons of financial incentives to encourage multi-family housing owners to make upgrades in their structures.
- A lengthy debate ensued about the circumstances under which folks would -- or would not -- get in trouble for violating water restrictions. Turns out that if Durham's water management folks don't witness a water restriction violation first-hand, it doesn't count from a penalty perspective. Meaning that if you call Durham One Call and report a waste, all the City's been able to do is call that individual and issue a verbal warning. So what happens if you take digital, time-stamped photos as evidence of water waste? After a great deal of debate, city attorney Karen Sindelar suggested that those photos could be used, but only if the reporting individual signs an affadavit and capture the address distinctively in the photo.
- Expect to see the City push harder for changes in regulations and hurdles blocking the widespread use of onsite water reclamation, using grey water from reclamation systems, and capturing stormwater for outside watering. Landscape, open space, and density requirements are likely to see a close re-examination, too.
- The oft-controversial practice of hydrant flushing continues -- as required by the state to meet water quality standards -- but the City should now always be recapturing that water for use in system maintenance.
City staff also put forward their recommendations for changes to building practices should Durham enter restrictive drought conditions. Staff are proposing that should the City reach Stage V restrictions, any water lines that are not already fully through the permitting process would not be allowed to enter service; additionally, any buildings that were not under construction at the time the City entered Stage IV restrictions would not be allowed to connect to the municipal water supply when Stage V hit. (Exceptions would be made for residents with contaminated or failed wells, renovation of existing homes, or other unique hardships.)
Bottom line: If you're building and permitted before Durham enters Stage IV, you'd be fine. If you start construction once Stage IV begins, be wary.
Still, the staff couldn't give Mayor Bell the one thing he's been looking for: Clear standards denoting what would trigger an entry into Stage V restrictions. "Did you forget [to bring them]?" he barked at a taken-aback City staffer. "I thought you were going to get it back to us this work session."
Expect to hear more on this issue in the weeks to come.