The News & Record / June 15, 2009In spite of a move by Virginia officials to slow the process, the Roanoke River Bi-State Commission will begin work in July on a framework for resolving water supply issues that affect both Virginia and North Carolina.
The commission, consisting of legislators and appointees from both states, held its second meeting Friday in Henderson, N.C.
R. Preston Bryant, director of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, and David K. Paylor, Department of Environmental Quality director, want to put on the brakes on initial efforts of the Roanoke River Basin Bi-State Commission to develop a protocol for resolving inter-state water issues, a DEQ official told the commissioners.
Scott Kudlas, director of Surface and Ground Water Planning at the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, reported on the high level briefing he gave for Bryant and Paylor.
He said the two department heads want the governors of Virginia and North Carolina to tell the commissioners what they can and can’t include in any bi-state compact before drafting an agreement begins.
“There is an expectation from the executive branch that they would have a large role in creating this process,” he said.
Kudlas characterized the snag as a “short term delay,” but cautioned that expecting action in the last six months of a governor’s term is not likely.
He said the best that could be hoped for would be to work with the incoming governor’s transition team.
Several members of the commission urged him to “encourage them to accelerate the process.”
Work toward an outline for the protocol will continue quietly and informally.
Gene Addesso, vice president of the Roanoke River Basin Association, is organizing a committee to brainstorm.
He said the small, informal committee of commission members and staff, as well an expert from Virginia Tech and one from North Carolina, will get to work in July.
“I had hoped that Scott Kudlas would be able to serve on the ad hoc committee, but, if as he indicated at the meeting he is not going to be able to do so, we will move ahead without him,” Addesso said following the Friday meeting.
Addesso said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has in hand a six year-old water allocation request from the City of Raleigh, wants the two states to give it guidance on how to deal with watersheds that serve two states.
Responding to a question from commission member John Field of Clarksville, Allen Pinar of the Corps said:
“If an applicant has an urgent request, they would have the right to speak to the chief,” he said.
That said, he added:
“We welcome any guidance we can set. If the states can together and decided what to do with the remaining Kerr Reservoir allocation or whether we need to look at reallocating the balance, that would be looked on very favorably.”
The commissioners also heard an update from Tom Fransen of the N.C. Department of the Environment and Natural Resources, on a request from the Henderson-based Kerr Lake Regional Water System for a permit to withdraw more water and transfer it to the Tar and Neuse River Basins.
A series of public hearings and a public comment period has recently been completed on that request.
Fransen summarized public comments. They included urging officials to address policy issues and asking them to consider the impact on federally listed species, mitigation, water conservation, impact on water quality, what will happen with the water after it’s been used, and whether the market or some other mechanism should determine who can use the water from the Roanoke River Basin.
An Environmental Impact Statement is underway.
“It will be the first quarter of 2011 before we’re done addressing everybody’s concerns and have a draft for comment,” Fransen said.
Addesso asked Fransen when the state of Virginia comes back into the process.
“We will involve the state of Virginia when we develop the environmental impact analysis and modeling to make sure they’re comfortable with the modeling we’re doing,” Fransen said.
N.C. Rep. Lucy Allen, who chaired the meeting said proposed inter basin transfer legislation being developed in her state will “tighten our laws to the benefit of the source basin.”
She commented that it’s so tight that a former head of water resources came into her office and said, “If you adopt this as legislation, there may never be another inter-basin transfer in North Carolina.”
She said the state also is being directed to work on compacts with adjacent states.
Kudlas commented, “One of the things that really important is the concept of equitability and moving toward compact. Having had experience with compacts, I want to make it clears that everyone will have to give up something.
“We need to move toward some equivalence,” he said, noting that North Carolina is at work writing state policy on water allocation and inter-basin transfer.
Although most of the discussion addressed the allocation of water supply and transfer of water from one river basin to another, two women from Pittsylvania took advantage of a public comment period to alert members to the potential threat of uranium mining to the region’s waterways.
A study National Academy of Sciences study is expected to get underway shortly on the impact of uranium mining.
Anne Cockrell told the commission two huge mines have been proposed for Pittsylvania with potential impact on water quality and quantity in both Virginia and North Carolina.
She said a uranium mine in Australia uses more than 7 million gallons of water per day.
“The water is not recoverable,” she said. “It is radioactive and toxic. “
Deborah Dix, also of Pittsylvania County, said that explosions involved in mining could destroy the rivers.
Kudlas said if mining actually began the operators would need “an appropriate water discharge permit.”
“There’s no cleanup,” Dix said.
“India can’t do it. We couldn’t do it either.”