Water Authority discusses ways and means

By Stephen S. Glass
Star Staff

   The Watauga Regional Water Authority held its second meeting Monday night on what promises to be a long road toward establishing a new water intake and treatment plant to serve Carter County and the surrounding region. Authority members discussed TVA policy on water uptake. Members also talked about financing for the multimillion dollar project.
   TVA Representative Gene Gibson spoke to members about TVA's concerns in granting permits for water uptake. Gibson told the authority that TVA's primary concern is for the "environmental impact" drawing water from any of the region's interconnected sources will have on aquatic life.
   Gibson said that TVA will take into consideration the need for water in the region -- that is, how much water the authority expects to draw from its source -- versus the impact of drawing out large quantities of water.
   "TVA will be looking at this from an environmental point of view...looking at maximum and minimum flow for any specific site...from the perspective of maintaining the aquatic habitat," said Gibson. "Normally you would do a needs assessment of current uses and a projected analysis, and TVA would look at the effect that sort of water usage would have on the whole system."
   According to Gay Irwin, representative for the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, the City of Elizabethton has been involved for over two years in a study to assess its own needs and acquire a permit for a maximum uptake of 16 million gallons per day from the Watauga River. Authority members last night requested that City Manager Charlie Stahl "continue to pursue a conversation with TVA on behalf of the water authority."
   In financial matters, Elizabethton Planning and Development Director David Ornduff said that over the past few months he has examined a number of ways to fund the project.
   "Right now we are looking at over a dozen sources for funding, and we will be looking into others," said Ornduff. "There are a lot of funding sources out there, but they all have certain parameters and thresholds. We plan to pursue them all, though some are less promising than others."
   Ornduff named several grant sources for the project: The U.S. Economic Development Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development Agency, the Appalachian Regional Commission, and Community Development Block Grants.
   Ornduff said that it usually takes at least 50 percent in local matching funds to secure grants from these organizations.
   "We need to determine what kind of funding is out there that requires the least local match," said Stahl. "We're still looking at sources for funding."
   Ornduff said that low interest loans were also available through a number of state and federal agencies.
   According to Stahl, the city has already acquired close to $6 million in grants and loans that could possibly be shared with the authority.
   The estimated cost of the project is over $48 million, Stahl said.
   The authority also voted last night to maintain a "regional view" for the project, intending to sell water across county lines once a system is established.
   "I have never believed that utilities should observe county lines or other boundaries," said County Executive Truman Clark.
   According to Richard Tester, spokesman for the Hampton Utility District and chairman of the authority's goals committee, the more utilities involved in the project the merrier.
   "The more people we can get on board, the more funding we will have access to," Tester said.
   Gay Irwin, the state's advisor to the authority, said that she has been approached by representatives from utility districts outside of Carter County that would be interested in purchasing water.