Union County is one of the fastest growing counties in the state. It added 21,000 residents between 2010 and 2015. To keep growing, it needs more water. A public hearing is planned this Thursday, Sept. 1, on the county's plan to tap a new water source - Lake Tillery, on the Yadkin River.
Right now, Union – excluding the city of Monroe - gets most of its water from the Catawba River, about 5 million gallons a day. But with Union’s population growing two to three percent a year, county public works planner Aubrey Lofton says capacity for new users will run out in four years.
“Without this water, I'm not really sure how we can meet the needs of our new residents, other than groundwater wells, and we actually have groundwater quality issues in Union County, with arsenic,” Lofton said.
“So it really would impair our ability to grow in Union County, and develop economically,” she added.
The county looked at a dozen options, including increasing what it gets from the Catawba. But that would have been more expensive, and potentially contentious, she said.
“The Catawba River is pretty recognized as an already stressed river. There's a lot more contention around increasing our supply from that,” Lofton said.
So Union wants to go to another basin and take about 12 million gallons a day from Lake Tillery, in the Yadkin River basin. That could grow to 28 million gallons by 2050.
Because Union and Lake Tillery are in two different water basins, the county needs state approval for what's called an "inter-basin transfer." A half-dozen other communities around the state get water this way.
But there are concerns: Lake Tillery residents worry the project would reduce water levels.
Will Scott, the Yadkin Riverkeeper, wants more research on long-term impacts.
“We really think that this is a very large request for a long period of time, and that some of the necessary environmental impacts haven't been studied,” he said. “And there's also a mounting case of local opposition from upstream folks who feel like their future needs may not have been factored in.”
The county says lake levels would fall by less than an inch on average. Even in a maximum drought, Lofton says the water level wouldn't fall below what's allowed.
“So we felt pretty comfortable that this river has adequate supply and that we can take this water without impacting residents or other users of the river,” Lofton says.
The project would cost $180 million and include a 21 mile pipeline to a new water treatment plant in northeastern Union County.
“It’s the biggest project that Union County has ever undertaken,” Lofton said.
The state Environmental Management Commission holds a public hearing on the transfer this Thursday at 6pm, at the Union County Government Center, Room 118, 500 North Main St., Monroe.
Written comments may be submitted until Oct. 3.
Approval could come in early 2017. The project still needs a federal permit as well.
Yadkin water project application and other information on the state DEQ website,