We had a discussion regarding OWASA at our November 13, 2012 meeting.  As background, we created an OWASA subcommittee at our April 24, 2012 board meeting as “a board subcommittee to work through technical information related to the OWASA draft DROP program with the Town’s OWASA representatives, to work with the Chapel Hill subcommittee, and to communicate more effectively with OWASA.”  Randee Haven-O’Donnell, Sammy Slade and I were appointed to the committee and met several times over the summer and fall with our OWASA representatives, staff from the N.C. Division of Water Resources, Town staff and OWASA staff.

Out of these meetings, the subcommittee identified three areas of importance and ongoing discussion:  1. the pursuit of a Level I allocation (and if necessary, pursuing a change in the administrative rules regarding the Level I allocation) 2. ongoing concerns with the current Drought Response Operating Protocol (DROP) and its relation to necessary changes to the Water and Sewer Management, Planning, and Boundary Agreement (WSMBPA), and 3. enhanced conservation (expanding programs, infrastructure, possible Conservation Task Force).  This post will deal specifically with the first area.

OWASA currently has a Level 2 allocation.  The difference between Level 2 and Level 1 is that Level 2 is allocation, while Level 1 is allocation and intent to withdraw within five years.   An entity pays $250,000 to move from Level II to Level I.  NC Division of Water Resources (DWR) staff has stated that any withdrawal from Jordan Lake, whether for ongoing or emergency needs, must come from a Level 1 allocation.  OWASA currently can withdraw water from Jordan Lake for emergency use (by debiting Cary’s allocation), but Durham and Cary staff have made it clear that in the future, any water from Jordan Lake that is sold to OWASA must come from OWASA’s own Level 1 allocation.

There have been three Jordan Lake allocations over the past few decades, and the fourth round of allocations is coming up. Applicants must submit draft applications by February 1, 2013 and final applications by May 1, 2013. the Environmental Management Commission (EMC) will make decisions as to allocations at their September 11, 2014 meeting.  OWASA is concerned that by not applying for a Level I allocation soon, they will have a weaker claim for allocation when the definitive decisions are made.

If OWASA starts the process toward Level 1 and over the course of the next year decides not to continue to pursue Level 1, the initial $250,000 that is expended can be reimbursed.  One item of concern is that an entity may lose its Level 1 assignment if the recipient does not begin to withdraw within five years of receiving an allocation. OWASA has said that they do not necessarily plan to draw water within five years, but feel they can argue successfully that they “intend” to draw water within five years to DWR, based on possible emergency usage.

OWASA’s need for Jordan Lake water is unique in that it would use Jordan Lake to supplement its water supply under an emergency (as defined in WSMPBA), in contrast to other Jordan Lake partners who use Jordan Lake as their primary water supply.   If OWASA’s Level 1 application is rejected, or if OWASA decides not to go forward under the current rules, OWASA might consider pursuing an administrative rule change to cove r their unique circumstances.

I should also note that an area of concern of the subcommittee is that OWASA has not finished doing the financial and logistical research it needs to do as to the full cost and commitment required if it is to rely on Cary and Durham for water transfer with a Level 1 allocation.

The subcommittee asked the Board of Aldermen to consider these comments, and whether to support OWASA pursuing a Level 1 allocation.  After a bit of discussion, the Board voted 5-2 against OWASA pursuing the Level 1 allocation.  Randee Haven-O’Donnell and I voted against the motion.  The vote is really a symbolic one, as the OWASA Board of Directors will decide whether to pursue the allocation.  However, our representatives will be instructed by our vote.

I voted against the motion because I would like to make certain we have a back-up plan in place in case of a water emergency, and I see no harm in pursuing the Level 1 allocation at this time, particularly because the initial cost is refundable. I made clear that my intent is for the Level 1 allocation to be used as a back-up, not a primary water source.  I still have concerns about the proposed DROP protocol where the OWASA Board might urge the use of Jordan Lake water sooner than at an emergency level.  But that is a subject for another day.