Water-management board formed

Drought response and conservation projects are top priorities for a water-management board formed Thursday during a meeting at York Technical College's Baxter Hood Center.

In its first official meeting, the Catawba-Wateree Water Management Group elected officers and approved a five-year plan for conservation, coordination and drought response improvements throughout the basin.

"This is a momentous occasion, not just for our organization, but for our entire river basin," said Barry Gullet, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities deputy director and chairman-elect of the group.

The group formed as a compromise during Duke Energy's federal relicensing process to extend its hydroelectric license, which begins next year. In August 2005, local water providers proposed a management group that would pay membership dues in response to Duke's proposal to require fees for water withdrawal.

Duke and 15 water providers, including Rock Hill and Chester, will share the cost of basin-wide improvements.

Jeff Lineberger, hydro licensing director for Duke, presented a $150,630 check to the group Thursday to pay the first year's dues. He said the group reflects the cooperation needed within the Catawba basin.

"I think today is living proof that if people focus on the important things, they can get past the differences they may have," he said. "We're all making a commitment now."

The management group was originally set to form in 2009, but increased awareness about water supply and the drought forced members to meet voluntarily this year.

Goals and projects in the five-year plan include extending water-use supply by identifying and monitoring consumption trends, developing strategies for long-term reductions in per capita water use and studying water resource organizations throughout the Southeast for possible improvements.

"We all have a lot in common," Gullet said. "It's good that we can focus on those common interests in moving all of our customers forward."

Possibilities in the next five years include lowering, consolidating or modifying water-use intakes to increase the usable water storage. A basin-wide drought management and communication plan also will be developed.

Water users who make "extraordinary progress" implementing plans could receive dues credits. Special consideration also will be given for improvements that combine water and energy-use efficiency. Also, a Web site will be created to announce meetings and other activities.

Maeneen Klein, water conservation manager for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities, said the group incorporating users throughout the region might be unprecedented nationally, and might serve as a model for future relicensing efforts.