WRWA seeks advice, finances

By Stephen S. Glass
Star Staff

   Members of the Watauga Regional Water Authority will get help with forming bylaws and other planning considerations next month, according to Gay Irwin, Program Manager for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation's (TDE&C) Division of Water Supply.
   Irwin, who has been working with the WRWA since its recent inception, said that she has contacted Elmo Lunn, chairman of the Dixon County Water Authority and a former director of the TDE&C's Division of Water Pollution Control, to help steer the committee toward its goal of establishing a source of drinking water along the Watauga River.
   According to Irwin and WRWA Chairman Richard Tester, the group must have bylaws in place and also have legal approval from the county commission before it can receive grants or borrow money.
   According to County Executive Truman Clark, finance is the highest hurdle lined up for the WRWA to clear in the coming months and years.
   So far the WRWA has a few city funds it can possibly draw from, according to Elizabethton City Manager Charles Stahl, but those funds are only a tiny fraction of the money needed in what is expected to be at least a $48 million project. Stahl said Monday that most grants require at least a 20 percent match in funds, though City Planner David Ornduff will continue to seek funding that requires less local money.
   Clark said that he had recently spoken with State Rep. Ralph Cole and that Cole is working with U.S. Congressman Bill Jenkins to secure federal funds for the WRWA.
   "I've been told the money is in the mill, as long as they can get the appropriations passed," said Clark. "For now all we can do is cross our fingers, hold on, and hope for the best."
   Clark did not want to say how large the appropriation might be. He did say, however, that the amount hoped for is "substantial."
   "We hope to know something soon, possibly in a month or two," Clark said.
   In other matters, members continued to discuss a possible location for the proposed uptake plant. The city has already been working to gain a permit to build a facility near the Watauga Industrial Park, but Stahl said that nothing has been "written in stone" concerning that location.
   In their permit request, the city has asked for the rights to expand the facility over time to draw as much as 16 million gallons per day from the river.
   The city's proposal is still under review by TVA and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, as both agencies assess the possible environmental consequences of drawing that amount of water from the industrial park location.
   Elizabethton Director of Public Works Ted Leger said last night that he does not expect to gain approval for the 16 million gallon uptake, but that he has yet to hear anything conclusive from TVA.
   If the WRWA were to build a plant farther downstream, they could possibly draw more water, but Irwin said that drawing downstream from the city's proposed site could mean turbidity problems from tributaries like the Doe.
   Both Leger and Irwin discussed supply options that could be taken by the WRWA in upcoming years, saying the Authority might want to consider maintaining more reliable sources of groundwater -- such as the Hampton Spring -- to supply some members while using the river source to supply others.
   Leger said that the Hampton Spring could possibly be used to supply water to more remote regions of the county like Little Milligan and Elk Mills.