Regional water system could be 'model' for other communities

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   The Watauga Regional Water Authority continues to piece together plans for a regional water system.
   The Authority discussed the use of federal grant money and the future selection of an authority director to orchestrate the multimillion dollar project.
   "In Carter County, I think they could serve as a model for other counties," said S.E. "Gene" Gibson, manager of Water Supply/River Operations for the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) in Knoxville. "In order to be cheaper, it is essential to work together."
   The cooperative spirit could be exercised at Thursday's Elizabethton City Council meeting.
   The Council could be presented with a proposal to rescind the city's water intake application permit submitted to TVA last year to draw water from the river.
   The council's decision to withdraw the city's permit would open the door for the Authority to submit their own three-part application permit to TVA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Environment and Conservation.
   When that grant application to draw water from the Watauga River is submitted, the Authority will await consideration and approval from TVA.
   Permit approval includes studies on the impact to local fisheries, environmental impact, archaeological concern, the flow of water for dilution of Johnson City's waste water, and an analysis to determine need.
   "What the TVA and the Corps requires is a needs analysis account of what the needs are for 30 to 50 years in the future," said Gibson.
   The Authority also approved a recommendation to hire an authority manager.
   Authority member David Ornduff cautioned against hiring a person for the position until grant application was approved. He noted any grant funding might not include personnel.
   "The director's salary probably would not count until the grant is approved," he said. "To be on the safe side, I would wait until the grant is approved before hiring anyone."
   Authority vice chairman Richard Tester said the recommendation from the Authority's subcommittee did not mean hiring a manager immediately.
   "We're not saying, hire this fellow next week," said Tester. "Once we got the qualifications of a manager, it may be three, four or five months."
   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.
   If the permit is approved, the WRWA will build a water plant near the Watauga River Industrial Park.
   The cooperation between the city, county and rural utility districts was a trend TVA hoped to see throughout the agency's service area, said Gibson.
   "We at TVA are encouraging combined regulation of water authority," he said. "It's much easier with one entity than six or seven groups pulling their separate permits, and it's better for the water user."
   In other business, authority member Charles Stahl and the entire board also recognized the efforts of WRWA Chairman Truman Clark for his efforts to make the regional authority a reality.
   The meeting was Clark's last as WRWA chairman with his term as county executive set to expire in September.
   "I still think this is one of the best things that can be done for this community," said Clark. "I hope I've had enough vision to see progress and see this as a solution."