Duke asks high court for role in water fight

CHARLOTTE -- Duke Energy has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to allow the Charlotte-based utility to intervene in the two-state fight over water in the Catawba River.

South Carolina sued North Carolina in June, months after an N.C. commission granted Concord and Kannapolis -- in the Rocky River basin -- the right to pump up to 10 million gallons a day from the Catawba River. The 225-mile river flows across the Carolinas border.

The S.C. suit says North Carolina is taking more than its fair share of the Catawba. It says the N.C. interbasin transfer law, which permits pumping water from one river basin to another, perpetuates that imbalance.

Duke asked the court on Friday to allow its intervention "to protect its unique, substantial public and private interests in the flow of the Catawba River." It filed as a defendant in the case but didn't take the side of either state.

The company has Catawba reservoirs in both states. It also has a federal license to manage the river that expires next year.

Duke crafted an agreement with 70 entities on proposed terms of the new license. The terms include increasing the flow of water from its reservoirs downstream.

Spokesperson Marilyn Lineberger said Duke filed the motion to protect its rights as a federal licensee and to defend the licensing agreement.

"The terms of Duke's current and future (federal) licenses are of critical importance to this Court's decision whether and how to equitably apportion the Catawba River," the motion read.

The Supreme Court has special authority to referee disputes between states over how interstate waters are used. The court usually names a "special master," such as a retired federal judge, to hear the case and make recommendations to the full court.

The court ruled in October that North Carolina must reply to the lawsuit. But it denied the S.C. request to halt further N.C. basin-to-basin transfers until the case is settled.