Q & A on Potential Alternative for Future Drinking Water
Where is the Little River?
The Little River, a tributary of the Neuse River, originates near Youngsville in Franklin County and runs roughly 90 miles south to eventually join the Neuse near Goldsboro.
What is the Little River reservoir project?
The Little River was first identified as a potential water source for Wake County as early as 1986, and by 1993 was determined to be a feasible source of drinking water in terms of existing land use, planned development, water quality and available yields. The purpose of the project is to develop a safe and dependable water supply for the 7-municipality service area (Raleigh, Garner, Rolesville, Knightdale, Wake Forest, Wendell, Zebulon) that, together with existing water supplies – Falls Lake and Swift Creek (Lakes Wheeler and Benson) – will help satisfy estimated water demands for a period ending in 2040. Wake County and the City of Raleigh have been purchasing land in the Little River watershed.
What is being proposed?
The project proposes the construction of a 39-foot dam just north of the river’s intersection with U.S. Highway 64, resulting in a 1,150 acre lake/reservoir extending six miles between Rolesville and Zebulon. The reservoir would provide a 50-year safe yield of approximately 13.7 mgd (million gallons water per day) – about 10% of projected need. The reservoir would hold up to 3.7 billion gallons in its impoundment area and would require a water treatment plant and pumping station, water lines, and the raising and/or closing of existing roadways as part of infrastructure improvement.
What impact would damming the Little River have on the environment and wildlife?
The Little River reservoir would inundate approximately 650 acres of forested wetlands and 10.5 miles of streams (source: US Army Corps of Engineers). This is the largest contiguous area of wetlands in the region. It would necessitate future development and property restrictions. It would destroy terrestrial and aquatic habitat and threaten several federally and state listed endangered species including the Neuse River Waterdog (a salamander), the Dwarf Wedge mussel, Tar River spiny mussels and the Carolina Madtom (type of catfish). For more than three decades, environmental groups have opposed the creation of reservoirs and have pushed hard to get dams dismantled to restore natural flow and revitalize fish and other aquatic life.
Do we need a reservoir?
Population growth is driving the need for more drinking water in Raleigh and its six merger municipalities in Eastern Wake. The population of the service area is expected to be more than 569, 000 by 2015, and over 782,000 by 2030. Before 2025, the average daily demand for water is projected to outstrip current supplies. Damming a river is one solution for providing municipal water supply. However, some organizations believe that increased water conservation and efficiencies would save more water than would be generated with the proposed reservoir. Others support exploring interbasin transfer options.
What is the projected future demand for drinking water?
Raleigh’s Pubic Utilities Department currently delivers an average 47.5 mgd to serve the nearly half million people in the 7-municipality service area. By 2025, demand is projected to be 81.9 mgd and, by 2030, 88.9 mgd. By 2040, projections estimate total water demand of 101.8 mgd (92.4 mgd including conservation measures and wastewater re-use). The 50-year safe yield projection for our existing water sources is 80. 5 mgd. The Little River reservoir would make up the deficit by providing 13-20 mgd of water for residential and business use.
What would the Little River reservoir project cost?
Not including variations in construction costs in the coming years, the cost of the Little River Reservoir project is estimated at $250 million. Raleigh and Eastern Wake water users will pay for the reservoir.
What is happening now?
The Little River project is currently in the environmental review draft process. An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) as part of applying for a permit for wetlands destruction. An EIS must also be completed that complies with the NC State Environmental Policy Act. The lead federal agency for the Little River EIS is the Army Corps of Engineers. The lead state agency for the Little River Reservoir project is the City of Raleigh Public Utilities (RPU). The EIS must include a plan for mitigating wetlands and habitat loss, analyze direct and indirect impacts to natural resources and humans, and rigorously analyze all feasible alternatives to building the reservoir.
What is the timeline for the reservoir project?
Initial timelines put the draft EIS due date in the fall of 2010 and a public hearing on the draft potentially in October 2010. The Final EIS is expected to be complete in 2014. The environmental review and permitting stage is expected to last approximately six years, and City of Raleigh projections anticipate construction to begin on the dam, reservoir and water treatment facility near the end of this decade. But, as Raleigh looks to change how they source water from Falls Lake, progress on the Little River Reservoir could be delayed as explained in a recent N&O Article by Thomas Goldsmith.
How can I learn more?
Visit stakeholder websites to learn more about the project, environmental impacts and alternatives: US Army Corps of Engineers, NC Wildlife Resources Commission, Raleigh Public Utilities Department, US Fish and Wildlife Service, American Rivers, Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation, NC Natural Heritage Program