City to appeal federal decision, seeks to protect water supply pump

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 12, 2020

By Liz Moomey

SALISBURY — When a flooding event resulted in rising river levels on Feb. 6, Salisbury-Rowan Utilities had to take a rare step. 

It turned off its water supply pump station — the city’s sole source of water — as water came close to reaching electrical equipment.  

Salisbury-Rowan Utilities employees waited until the flood waters to go down. The employees went out on boat in the flood waters to determine the facility was secure and electrical boxes are dry. The good news was that SRU has a backup supply of water that’s enough to last three or four days, says utility Director Jim Behmer. The city also has a water shortage supply response plan in place.

Salisbury engineers estimate the February flood was only about a “10-year event” — meaning it is inevitable that there will be more severe floods and that pumping equipment is in danger.

Build in 1927, about 19 miles from the pump station, High Rock Dam, owned by Cube Hydro, has been shown in studies, including one by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, to cause flooding and sedimentation problems upstream, including at the city’s pump station.

The city first passed a resolution March 3 asking the state and federal government require the implementation of flood protection measures to prevent disruption and destruction of infrastructure that is essential for the operation of Salisbury’s water supply system. The flood threat, the city of Salisbury says, would be eliminated if federally-required and state-required flood protection measures were in place.

But dam-owner Cube Hydro received approval for plans March 12 that only implement some of those required measures that didn’t address the flooding of the pump station building and access road, Corriher said during Tuesday’s council meeting. Salisbury asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to require implementation of a plan that is better-engineered and that meets all requirements. 

“The city all along had been objecting to that plan that it was inadequate,” Corriher said.

Cube Hydro’s fix puts the bill on taxpayer, said Councilman David Post. The cost of moving the pump station to avoid flooding is estimated to require about $20 million, and a band-aid solution —raising pumps and moving some electrical equipment in the building — is about $2 million, Post said. 

“(That) is inevitably not going to work and that’s the reason we’re appealing,” he said. “They basically said to the taxpayer ‘look you can pick up the $20 million hit to move the pump station’ when we didn’t cause what’s leading to the problems.”

Mayor Karen Alexander said a lot of Cube Hydro’s plan “is simply not doable. it’s inadequate and it’s dangerous for our employees.”

Salisbury proposed a design that would provide dry, safe conditions inside the pump station building, which prevents damage to electrical equipment and allows repairs without employees working from a watercraft. It will also ensure an access road that doesn’t flood.

The Salisbury-proposed plans follow the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality requirements. 

The Cube Hydro plan raises some equipment and requires Salisbury-Rowan Utilities workers to rely on boat to get to the building during a flood, the city said in a presentation Monday, which the Post obtained.  

Alexander said County Commissioner Chairman Greg Edds, N.C. Rep. Harry Warren and N.C. Sen. Carl Ford met on Monday to discuss the pump station and the flooding concerns.

After Warren reached out to the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality to assist. They came back with a “very nice letter of support” of the city to include in the FERC appeal.

“The flooding and access road are two very important parts that needs consideration in any type mediation to the problem,” Warren said.

The town of Granite Quarry, a customer of SRU, also passed a resolution of support of Salisbury and its water supply at its Monday meeting.

More than 52,000 Rowan county residents rely on SRU for their water supply.

Corriher said the city would be filing an appeal to FERC on Monday.