10/29/07 — Officials consider plan for reservoir

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Officials consider plan for reservoir

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on October 29, 2007 1:45 PM

Despite the overcast skies and the rain of the last few days, Wayne County still finds itself in the midst of a drought that the National Drought Mitigation Center has classified as exceptional.

Because of that dwindling supply of water, Gov. Mike Easley has called for all of North Carolina to cut its consumption in half, leading municipalities like Goldsboro, Walnut Creek and Mount Olive to either further restrict, or explore further restricting residents' water usage.

All in all, said county Manager Lee Smith, it's beginning to add up to a potentially scary scenario.

"I fear we might go dry eventually," he said.

Noting that Wayne County receives much of its water only after residents in Wake and Johnston counties -- both of which are exploding with growth -- get their fill, he is concerned that the flow from the Neuse and Little rivers might soon no longer be enough.

"If our demand is going up and their demand is going up, what's going to happen?" he asked.

It's that reason, he explained, that the Wayne County Utilities Commission -- a conglomerate of government officials from the county, every municipality and the sanitary districts -- decided earlier this month to explore new possibilities.

Among those is working to create a county or regional reservoir.

The first step in putting such a project together, though, is to find out who is interested.

"There comes a point, lines don't matter. We've got to look at all our resources," Smith said. "A reservoir can be done, but it can't be just one county.

"We want to include all the counties near Wayne and maybe more. I think we might be talking 10 to 12 counties. We just want to see who wants to be involved."

And so at Wayne County's behest, the East Carolina Council is working to coordinate a regional meeting.

"We've always taken this approach with transportation issues," Mount Olive Town Manager Charles Brown said. "I certainly think that water issues are at least as important as roads."

He also said that in addition to exploring the feasibility of building a reservoir, the group should also look at other water alternatives such as recharging aquifers or pumping in water.

"We don't want to leave any option on the table," he said.

But, Smith cautioned, coming up with a solution is going to take time, especially if a number of governmental entities are involved. He's hopeful, though, that they will be able to do a feasibility study within the next 24 months.

"There are some areas in Wayne County where there are some possibilities," he said.

A similar project -- the 2,300-acre, 7 billion gallon Buckhorn Lake -- took the city of Wilson 11 years to build, just on its own.

Deputy City Manager Charles Pittman, who spearheaded the effort, explained that officials began work on the project in 1988 and did not finish until 1999.

Fortunately, he added, with the reservoir estimated to be a sufficient water source for the next 50 years, it's an investment that has paid off.

Today the lake is the city's primary source of water, and even before this week's rain, it was 60 percent full.

"For the last three months, every drop of water coming out of Wiggin's Mill (where the city actually pumps its water from) has come from Buckhorn," Pittman said. "We made it through the drought in 2002 with no problems, and we're in pretty good shape even in this drought. That's what this was built for -- to carry us during drought times."

But, he said, for Wayne County to make such a project a reality, it's going to take time and effort.

"It requires you to be united and patient," he said. "It's a long process. It's not one of those things you do quickly."