Don't open tap for river transfers

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 7, 2007

Editor’s note: This column was submitted by nine mayors and five county commission chairs in the Catawba River Basin, regarding the proposed interbasin transfer of water from the Catawba and Yadkin rivers. The North Carolina Environmental Management Commission will meet Wednesday to discuss the proposed transfer from the Catawba River to Concord and Kannapolis.

In a few days, the North Carolina Environmental Management Commission (EMC) will make a ruling on a proposal to transfer up to 36 million gallons of water a day from the Catawba River Basin to the distant communities of Concord and Kannapolis.

We, the leaders of communities that live along and depend upon the Catawba, believe the EMC will do what is right for our communities and the citizens of North Carolina at-large by denying this request — or at the least delaying a decision until more research can be done and both sides have been given a chance to present their evidence.

While this may seem to be a local issue, we urge residents statewide — urban and rural — to consider how this decision will, ultimately, affect all of us. Indeed, a case can be made that the way the Catawba goes will be the way the state goes:

The current proposal indicates that drought restrictions will likely need to be imposed earlier — up to nine months earlier even with only a 22 million gallon/day transfer. Even though that situation could imperil nearly 1 million residents of the Catawba Valley and potentially impact Charlotte’s water supply, Concord and Kannapolis want to move forward. The state should not allow two communities to have that sort of power over so many other communities. If they do, who’s next?

Alternatives from other river basins that are less densely populated exist, but have not been fully explored. Other communities are willing to sell Concord and Kannapolis water from their surpluses. The state should tell Concord and Kannapolis they should look at these options before taking water from elsewhere. If not, who will try to do the same to your water supply in a few years?

The South Carolina attorney general has already indicated he will sue North Carolina on behalf of his state’s citizens if the transfer of water is approved. And who can blame him? The Catawba flows into South Carolina. Yet, South Carolina has been left out of discussions on the Catawba plan.

The lawsuit on the horizon will be measured in years and taxpayer dollars. The EMC should look at the “big picture” and recommend no transfer of water until the state legislatures of North and South Carolina can reach a workable agreement that helps all Carolina residents with water needs.

Most agree that the current process of approving interbasin water takings in North Carolina is flawed and needs to be changed. Concord and Kannapolis claim it would be unfair to “change the rules” on them at this point in the process.

But what about the rest of us? To us, it’s unfair to every other community in the state to make a bad environmental decision that will have a long-term effect on the growing Catawba Valley region and the state.

Approval of this transfer is to turn a blind eye on communities not named Concord and Kannapolis. The state of North Carolina and our neighbors to the south deserve better than this.

We strongly urge the EMC to deny or at least delay this proposal, and we encourage North Carolinians who feel the same way to voice their concerns before the Jan. 10 decision.

Signed by: Mayor Rudy Wright of Hickory; Mayor Guy E. Barriger of Taylorsville; Mayor Mel Cohen of Morganton; Mayor Jim Hatley of Valdese; Mayor A. Everette Clark of Marion; Mayor David Barlow of Lenoir; Mayor Bob Smyre of Maiden; Mayor Norman E. Cook of Long View; Mayor Bruce Eckard of Conover; Mayor Tom H. Jones of Catawba; Kitty Barnes, chair, Catawba County Commission; Andy Webb, chair, McDowell County Commission; Faye R. Higgins, chair, Caldwell County Commission; Tom Anderson, chair, Lincoln County Commission.