03Cape Fear River NC USAThe water war between three western Wake County towns and Fayetteville is not over.

Two weeks ago, an administrative judge ruled for Fayetteville and its ally, Wilmington, against Cary, Apex and Morrisville, who were sopping up water at Fayetteville’s expense. 

The three Wake County towns want more water out of the Cape Fear River Basin, to use it, treat it and put it into the Neuse River Basin. The state’s Environmental Management Commission said they could do it, even if it meant less water heading down the Cape Fear River. Less water downriver could cause problems for Fayetteville and Wilmington.

Two weeks ago, the judge ruled the Environmental Management Commission’s decision to let the three fast-growing towns yet again dip into the Cape Fear River was based on shoddy decision-making. Last week, the Commission appealed the ruling. So, it’s back to legal squabbles, but no date for the face off as yet.

Taking water out of the Cape Fear River Basin and putting it back into the Neuse River Basin at the detriment of Fayetteville and other downriver communities is something Cary, Apex and Morrisville have been doing for years.

November 1989: The state’s Environmental Management Commission gave them permission to take 16 million gallons a day from Jordan Lake, which is in the Cape Fear River Basin.

July 2001: The EMC issued yet another Inter Basin Transfer Certificate (IBT) allowing Cary, Apex, Morrisville and Wake County to transfer 24 million gallons per day from the Haw River (Cape Fear River Basin) to the Neuse River Basin.

Cary and Apex also built a $290 million wastewater treatment plant so they could treat water and put it back into the Cape Fear River Basin. But, they determined it was still cheaper to dump it back into the Neuse instead, even though the plant had plenty of capacity to treat more water. Go figure.

March 2015: The EMC allowed them to amend the 2001 agreement and take 33 million gallons a day from the Haw River, a 38 percent increase. The Haw River feeds into the Cape Fear.

May 2015: Fayetteville Public Works Commission filed a legal action against the state Department of Environmental Quality and EMC.

PWC argued that the method they used to determine taking that much water from the Cape Fear River Basin and not putting it back wouldn’t hurt downriver towns was rushed and thus flawed. Also, the commission didn’t follow the rules for holding public hearings about the issue.

Former State Attorney Roy Cooper’s lawyers represented the EMC and Department of Environmental Quality.

The state’s lawyers argued that Cary, Apex and Morrisville need the water because they’re growing. That’s an arrogant argument. The state’s environmental gurus and state attorney general’s office obviously believe water to feed the Wake County’s growth is more important than the potential growth for Fayetteville
and Wilmington.

February 2017: Judge ruled in favor of Fayetteville, stating that the EMC and its advising agency the Department of Environmental Quality failed to use proper procedures and failed to act according to law.

The EMC’s legal appeal will prolong this effort by Wake County to feed its need for more water at the detriment of downriver towns. The good news is that the hearing will be held in Cumberland County. 

Raleigh and Wake County are among the fastest growing economies in the nation, and with that growth comes a desperate thirst for water. Taking water from the Cape Fear River Basin and not returning it is a dangerous precedent that PWC, the City of Fayetteville and its allies downriver cannot ignor if we are
to prosper.

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