For Asheville citizens, this year’s ballot will include a referendum on whether or not to sell Asheville’s water system. The referendum will read: “Shall the City of Asheville undertake the sale or lease of its water treatment system and water distribution system?

WNCA opposes the uninvited sale of Asheville’s water system to a regional authority and fervently hopes you’ll vote “NO!”

Here’s why:

Last year, N.C. General Assembly created a special study committee, on which the vast majority of Asheville’s citizens were not represented, to recommend whether to transfer Asheville’s billion-dollar water system to another entity. Upon completion of its study, the committee recommended the water system merge with the Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD), which handles wastewater for Asheville, Buncombe County, and parts of Henderson County.  The City and MSD have initiated studies of how a merger would impact rates, what it would cost, and how the resulting system could be managed.

The report from the study committee also said that if the two entities are not engaged in “good faith negotiations” when the General Assembly reconvenes in January 2013, there will be a bill to force the merger of the two systems. WNCA, along with our partners, NC for Clean Water, Food and Water Watch, WENOCA Sierra Club, Mountain Voices and PARC, oppose this top-down dictate about ownership and management of Asheville’s water system for the following reasons:

I. The system isn’t broken, so don’t fix it.

The City of Asheville provides clean, affordable water to citizens throughout the region, is an exceptional environmental steward of our watershed and is accountable to the local community. Why change it?

II. Would a regional water authority protect our environment by controlling sprawl and being a good steward of the watershed?

SprawlControlling sprawl is critical to protecting our beautiful mountains and precious water resources. One effective way to control sprawl is to direct growth with strategic placement of infrastructure. If water lines are extended to areas where growth is desirable and limited in areas where growth is not, it can serve as an effective tool to manage land use. One concern with a regional water authority is there might be less emphasis to grow our urban areas and more emphasis on growth into our working farms and forest lands (aka: more sprawl).

Watershed Stewardship: The City has done an exceptional job protecting the North Fork and Bee Tree Watersheds, the main sources for Asheville’s water system. Another owner could open these invaluable areas to ecologically destructive uses such as logging. Protecting our watershed is critical to maintaining the high quality drinking water our region is blessed with. The health of our water supply is not only important for the environment and human health, but serves as a valuable economic tool to attract businesses, such as Sierra Nevada Brewery, to the area.

III. Would a regional water authority be managed in an accountable, transparent manner with oversight from the public?

The City of Asheville’s current water system is governed in a transparent manner and is accountable to the public. We have no guarantee a new regional water authority would provide these critical protections.

The less local, the more likelihood for a disconnect between public needs and managers of the system.

IV.  The study committee may recommend transferring Asheville’s water system without sufficiently compensating the city. How is this consistent with conservative values of local control and championing property rights?

The City owns the infrastructure and has the permit to withdraw and use the water. The City is the legal, moral, and rightful owner of this $1.4 billion system.

Since 2005 alone, the city has invested $40 million in updates and improvements to the system.

Some argue that the ratepayers “own” the water system. However, ratepayers don’t own the water system any more than ratepayers own Progress Energy’s infrastructure.

V. Is this decision process fair, representative, and inclusive?

The future of Asheville’s water system is being determined by a five-member study committee initiated and led by Rep. Tim Moffit. Three committee members do not represent any of our region’s citizens and close to 70 percent of Asheville’s citizens are not represented on this committee at all. The make-up of this committee does not adequately reflect diverse viewpoints and lacks proper representation, perspective and balance.

VI. If Asheville’s water system is seized without due compensation, will our water supply become the focus of expensive legal battles for years to come?

Yes, if the state forcefully seizes Asheville’s water system, the City will undoubtedly pursue legal measures, putting ownership of our region’s water supply in question for years to come.

In all likelihood, this would prevent future needed infrastructure updates and improvements until litigation subsides and the rightful owner is decided upon via the court system.

Both N.C. and Asheville citizens would front the cost (via taxes) for this expensive legal battle, wasting money and taking energy away from other important governmental efforts.

The most important function of a water system is to provide clean, affordable water.

The City of Asheville has done an exceptional job. We believe the best way to ensure the future health and effectiveness of Asheville’s water system is to allow Asheville to continue operating it. Moreover, any decision and subsequent management of Asheville’s water system should be local, public and transparent.

FACTS ABOUT THE ASHEVILLE WATERSHED

The Asheville Watershed is a 22,000-acre expanse of unbroken forest bordering the Blue Ridge Parkway in Buncombe County.

Along with providing exceedingly clean water for Asheville and Buncombe County, the watershed is regarded as one of the most important natural areas in the Southern Appalachians because of its importance to the ecological integrity of the Black Mountains, the tallest mountain range east of the Mississippi, and the incredible collection of rare plants, animals, natural communities, and old-growth forests that are found there.

Among the natural highlights of the property are globally rare and never logged spruce-fir forests, high elevation rock outcrops, waterfalls, spray cliffs, glades, and over 20 rare species, including the Federally Endangered Carolina northern flying squirrel.

GET INVOLVED

POSTERS: Posters supporting our cause are available at the WNCA’s office, located at 29 N. Market St., Suite 610 — (828) 258-8737

YARD SIGNS: Yard signs supporting our cause are available at the following locations (calling in advance is a good idea). Small donations are welcome:

Downtown: Clean Water of North Carolina, 29 1/2 Page Ave — (828) 251-1291

North Asheville: Asheville Brewers Supply, 712 Merrimon Ave. — (828) 285-0515

East Asheville: Democratic Headquarters, 951 Old Fairview Road

West Asheville: West Village Market, 771 Haywood Road — (828) 225-4949

South Asheville: Sam Speciale, 14 Trevors Trail (near Brevard Road) — (828) 242-1794

FOR MORE INFORMATION AND DETAILS ON THIS ISSUE, VISIT:

http://ashevillewater.blogspot.com/