First Posted: 1/15/2009
High and dry
The county Board of Commissioners on Monday night popped the cork on an issue that needs revisiting - the fact, difficult as it is to believe in the 21st century, that approximately 35,000 Robesonians continue to depend on well water for their drinking, bathing and other daily needs.
These folks are scattered about one of the state's most rural areas, and are left high and dry because extending a water line to their doorsteps is often too costly for our poor county.
Currently, the policy is that there must be 20 customers - homes or commercial properties - that would benefit before the county will extend a mile of water line in any direction, a figure that essentially allows the county to recoup its investment within seven or eight years.
The county commissioners must decide if that threshold should be lowered and, if it is, what number is appropriate. Three or five customers are obviously too few, but should the number be 10, 13 or 16? One county commissioner on Monday, Jerry Stephens, suggested exceptions have already been made to the policy.
All the commissioners appear united in their belief that something should be done. They remember that county residents in the 1970s approved general obligation bonds that paid for the creation of a countywide water system, but three decades later, the system isn't countywide as only 65 percent of our rural residents benefit.
It might surprise residents to learn that the county's Water Fund is robust, with about $10 million, money that is not marinating. In fact, the Water Fund has a steady leak: Law requires that money from the fund be reinvested in the water system, and that is done almost continually to meet maintenance needs and for upgrades.
County Manager Ken Windley reminded the commissioners that there are grants that would pay for significant enhancements to the water system, but first a county must be eligible. That is not a guarantee because to qualify, counties must demonstrate they are trying to pay their own way, and right now our county's water rates are lower than they were a decade ago.
It appears that there is political will on the Board of Commissioners to do what good government does, and that is to meet the needs of those it serves. We can think of nothing more fundamental than access to good clean water, which can't be found by digging holes in the ground.