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Why Raleigh and Wake County are helping to buy hundreds of acres in Granville County

The (Raleigh) News & Observer logo The (Raleigh) News & Observer 10/4/2018 By Anna Johnson, The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)

Oct. 03--RALEIGH -- Raleigh and Wake County are spending millions to help buy more than 1,000 acres in Granville County to protect their residents' drinking water.

The 1,083 acres sit along Smith Creek, which feeds into Beaverdam Lake and Falls Lake, the primary water source for Raleigh and Wake County. As long as the land remains undeveloped, it serves as a natural buffer that can help stop polluted runoff from reaching the water supply.

"As the city grows and the cost of treating our water increases, it's important to take steps to preserve the land that is upstream of our main water supply," Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane said. "As we protect Falls Lake from additional nutrient runoff into the lake, we help preserve the quality and cost of maintaining clean water for our residents."

Both the Raleigh City Council and the Wake County Board of Commissioners voted this week to move forward with the multi-million dollar purchase.

About $3.3 million of the total $8.3 million purchase will come from the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, a state organization that promotes land and water protection throughout the state.

Raleigh will pay about $3.5 million from its watershed protection fund, a fee of 15 cents per 1,000 gallons used by water customers. Wake County will pay about $1.3 million from the Little River Reimbursement Fund, which can only be used for watershed and water-quality protection and water quality improvement. Granville County will pay $250,000 of the cost.

The property will be owned and managed by the Tar River Land Conservancy, which works in the Tar River Basin. The land could be open for "passive recreation" like birdwatching and hiking, but that hasn't been determined, said Wake County's parks director Chris Snow.

The land was purchased from Creedmoor Investments LLC by The Conservation Fund, which will then sell it to the Tar River Land Conservancy.

This is the first time Wake County has bought land outside of the county's borders for watershed protection.

Raleigh, on the other hand, has spent more than $10 million to preserve more than 6,500 acres in Granville, Durham and Orange counties, said Ed Buchan, Raleigh's senior utilities analyst. The watershed protection fee on people's water bills costs the average residential customer about 57 cents per month, but it produces about $2.2 million per year.

The city's program has preserved more than 70 miles of stream and leveraged nearly $90 million in grant funding and land owner donations. Raleigh plans to preserve more than 30,000 acres by 2045.

"When you look at the plans and future development trends in the Falls Lake watershed you can see, obviously, there is a lot of pressure from development," Buchan said. "You are trying to balance that in terms of letting communities grow how they want to while preserving water quality. We do as much as we can while we can."

Anna Johnson; 919-829-4807; @anna_m_johnson


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