The state Environmental Management Commission says Union County should be allowed to draw water from Lake Tillery on the Yadkin River to supply new users as its population grows.
The commission voted 11 to 1 Friday to approve what's called an "inter-basin transfer.” The state regulates transfers between river basins, weighing the benefits with environmental and other concerns.
Union currently gets most of its water from the Catawba River. But with the population growing at 2 to 3 percent a year, county officials say they won't be able to add any new users after 2020, without an additional water supply.
“This project represents sound long-term regional planning for our community by utilizing Yadkin River water to serve our customers in the Yadkin River basin," said Ed Goscicki, the county's public works director.
The state certificate would allow Union to transfer up to 23 million gallons a day from the Yadkin River to a new water treatment plant in the Rocky River basin in northern Union County. The county says it would be less at first - about 12 million gallons a day.
As part of the project, Union County plans to build a new water intake and pump station at Lake Tillery, in Stanley County. The town of Norwood also would get infrastructure for its own water supply. Union plans to build a 21-mile pipeline to a new water treatment plant in northern Union County.
The project still needs a federal permit. And the state certificate could face a challenge. Upstream groups say they want more water conservation measures, says Will Scott, of the Yadkin Riverkeeper environmental group.
"The certificate issued by the EMC is likely to be challenged going forward, as it failed to take into account concerns of upstream groups, including Yadkin Riverkeeper, who argue that state law requires stronger water conservation measures than are guaranteed by the certificate approved by the EMC last week," Scott said in an email.
The county also needs other approvals before it can start the project. It hopes to begin work in 2019, and complete the project by 2022.
Detailed information on the Yadkin/Union County water project on the NCDEQ website