Grant money opens funding pipeline for WRWA

By Thomas Wilson

STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   The Watauga River Regional Water Authority (WRWA) has taken its first step in funding a multi-million dollar water uptake plant on the Watauga River.
   Approximately $900,000 in federal grant money administered through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been secured to fund the establishment of a regional water source for the city and county.
   "The grant money is available and in place, which is good news," Authority Chairman Truman Clark told board members at a WRWA meeting on Monday afternoon. "It is ready to be drawn upon by us."
   When the Authority spends the grant money toward the project, the EPA will reimburse 55 percent of the expenditure, according to Clark.
   Board member Olen Pate said the selection of a plant manager should be one issue on the board's short term agenda.
   "We've got to be careful of what we're doing," said Pate, citing the importance of finding the right management. "The person who does this can make this program or kill this program."
   Pate also suggested the board invite the seven candidates running for county executive to attend the Authority's July meeting to discuss their views about the project.
   Charles Stahl felt the next immediate decision facing the board was the selection of an engineering firm to design and oversee the project.
   "When we've selected the engineering firm...and the firm has performed all it needs to perform, then we can go to staffing and personnel," said Stahl.
   The board also approved the plant's site application for submission to the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) for permission to draw water from the river.
   The city's initial request to the TVA stated that it needed to draw between eight million to 16 million gallons of water a day from the Watauga River to supply its residents over a 20- to 30-year period.
   In the Authority's April meeting, board members agreed a request of approximately 12 million gallons of water per day would be a reasonable number for the permit.
   A TVA official had expressed apprehension to the board about the environmental impact caused by drawing up to 16 million gallons of water per day.
   The authority has discussed locating the uptake plant near the Watauga Industrial Park.
   The board was expected to discuss the selection of an engineering firm at the Authority's next meeting, tentatively scheduled for July 1.