Raleigh, N.C. — Mayor Charles Meeker sent a letter to Franklin County commissioners Tuesday, asking the county to back off its plans to to draw drinking water from the Neuse River.
Franklin County is looking at building a $23 million pump station and pipeline that would pull water from the river near the former Burlington Mills textile plant off U.S. Highway 1 north of Raleigh.
Officials have said using an intake pipe at the plant, which closed more than a decade ago, would be a cheaper and easier option to serve the growing southern end of than extending more lines from Henderson and Kerr Lake, where Franklin County now gets its water. Most of the county would continue to rely on Henderson and Kerr Lake for its water, they said.
"From the city of Raleigh's perspective, this is just a bad idea, and we need to say so clearly and forcefully," Meeker said. "There's no way the city of Raleigh can really compromise its water supply. I think everybody understands that."
In the letter, he said the Army Corps of Engineers regulates the water flow from Falls Lake into the Neuse River to maintain a specified water level at Clayton. The Corps has reduced the flow to conserve the dwindling water supply in the lake, and the flow would have to increase if Franklin County drew water at the former textile plant.
He also notes that drawing water from the Neuse River for Franklin County customers would amount to an inter-basin transfer since most of the county is in the Tar-Pamlico River Basin. State authorities have frowned on such moves in the past, he wrote.
"I hope you realize our position is that the Neuse River has no additional water supply resources available – if such were the case, we would be pursuing this location ourselves in our long-term water supply plan," Meeker wrote.
The state Environmental Management Commission and the Division of Water Quality have classified the intake pipe at the former plant as suitable for drinking water, so Franklin County officials said they aren't deterred by Raleigh's opposition.
"Anytime you've got to deal with a natural resource like this, you've got certain impediments – bumps in the road – that you have to deal with," said Bryce Mendenhall, director of public utilities for Franklin County. "It just seems sensible to try and look on this southern tip (of the county) to help the growth that's taking place."
Franklin County commissioners are expected to discuss the water plan next week. State officials haven't set a timetable for when the idea might be approved or rejected.
The state has required Raleigh to limit development of about 5,000 acres in north Raleigh to decrease the potential runoff that could adversely affect water quality near the intake. Raleigh officials this month rejected zoning regulations proposed by the state because of the potential impact on thousands of homeowners and said they would meet minimal state standards for runoff.