Water fight not over

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Staff report

RALEIGH — While Concord and Kannapolis have won the water fight, they may now have to gear up for a legal battle.

Concord and Kannapolis have gained approval from the state’s Environmental Management Commission to draw water out of the Catawba and Yadkin River basins. The cities were asking for 36 million gallons per day — 10 million from the Yadkin River and 26 million from the Catawba River — to help meet projected shortfalls for the next 30 years.

The Environmental Management Commission — a division of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources — granted approval on Wednesday for Kannapolis and Concord to withdraw 10 million gallons a day from each of the two rivers.

Opponents of the water transfer along the Catawba River have vowed legal action to stop the transfer of water from the Catawba River. Cities up and down the Catawba River have pledged money to help with the legal battle.

The decision marks a positive note for Concord and Kannapolis, which have been embroiled in the lengthy interbasin transfer petition process for more than six years.

Although the cities had initially requested a higher amount for the transfers, city leaders are pleased to be moving forward in their efforts to meet their communities’ water needs, a press release from the city of Concord states.

“This level of transfer will not solve all of our residential and commercial water needs for the future, but it certainly will help us,” said Kannapolis Mayor Bob Misenheimer in the press release. “We are disappointed that the EMC did not approve our total request.”

Results of modeling conducted by the cities in 2006 showed that even a transfer at a higher level would only result in insignificant impacts to water levels, and would not adversely affect the environment or economies of surrounding communities.

“We are fortunate our state has sufficient water resources and a system in place to manage them,” said Concord Mayor Scott Padgett in the release. “Our cities were not blessed with ample water. Thanks to the foresight of the EMC our cities, like other communities throughout the state using (interbasin transfers), will be able to survive and thrive. …

“We are disappointed that our full request was not granted,” said Padgett. “The scientific evidence confirmed that there would be no negative impact on the Catawba River nor on its users. Now that the state has ruled it is time for elected officials and citizens of Concord/Kannapolis and the Catawba River Basin to declare a truce and avoid litigation. While the state has granted much less water than we need, we must come together, put this behind us and work together to manage our water needs.”

Hickory Mayor Rudy Wright said in a press release last week that the city will fight any transfer of water to Concord and Kannapolis.

“We are going to fight this fight on every front, with legal action, as well as resort to our state legislature and congress,” Wright said in the press release. Members of a coalition to protect the Catawba River said they expect legislators to take up the issue of interbasin transfers this month when they reconvene.

Prior to Wednesday’s decision, the Protect the Catawba River Coalition — a group of 13 municipalities and counties in the Catawba River basin created to fight the interbasin transfer — requested the Environmental Management Commission delay the decision on the water request again for 120 days, and have retained an attorney, Charles Case, a partner with Hunton & Williams law firm.

In a release from the coalition, the request for a delay cites potential job loss for the Catawba Valley, the revised Environmental Impact Statement, comments by federal agencies and the potential legislative action on reform of the transfer process as reasons for the delay.

The attorney wrote in a letter to the commission that 10 million gallons still causes concern to the coalition and members “remain deeply concerned about the process and lack of convincing evidence to substantiate the recommended decision.”

The Environmental Management Commission voted down a motion to delay the decision before approving the 10 million gallon per day transfers from the Yadkin and Catawba rivers.

Contact Citizen staff at 704-932-3336 or news@kannapoliscitizen.com.