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Task force seeks answers to water shortages

The newly formed Jackson County Water Study Task Force met for the first time Thursday (Dec. 4) to begin discussing ways to combat water shortages.

The task force was formed after several county residents recently reported that their wells and springs ran dry due to the drought.

“My guess is that there are a lot of people in Jackson County who are dry or about to go dry,” Jackson County Commissioner Tom Massie said.

Growth in the county will also decrease water supply. Massie pointed out that golf courses being built in the area will use a lot of water.

Massie led the first meeting of the task force, which was merely an organizational gathering to introduce members and explain the group’s purpose. Massie said the group will explore ways water can be conserved. Even if the current drought ends soon the task force needs to be proactive in looking at how water can be saved in the future, Massie said. The task force needs to look at short and long-term solutions to the problem.

“That’s the job of the task force, to come up with recommendations,” he said.

Ideas may include providing residents with water saving devices for their showerheads. The county building code could even be modified to require water saving devices in homes.

Residents could use cisterns to collect rainwater and use it for irrigation, he said.

“I think that makes real good sense,” Massie said.

Also large developments and golf courses could possibly capture run-off during big rains and use it for irrigation, he said.

“Those are going to be more long-term solutions,” Massie said.

The drought is not only affecting those who rely on the groundwater table to feed their wells, but could impact those who get water from the Tuckaseigee Water and Sewer Authority, which pulls its water from the river.

Massie said the river is at all-time lows since flow was first measured in 1895. He added that the Chattooga River near Cashiers registered 60 cubic feet per second this summer when it had never been recorded at less than 200 cubic feet per second.

Drought is an unusual phenomenon for Western North Carolina, Massie said, adding that the area has traditionally gotten an average of 85 inches a year until about four years ago.

The task force is made up of representatives from several entities, including the town of Webster, Village of Forest Hills, Sylva, Jackson County, Southwestern Community College, and Western Carolina University. The Tuckaseigee Water and Sewer Authority is also represented on the task force by its Executive Director Joe Cline.

Some members of the task force, such as Dr. Mark Lord, department head of the Hydrogeology, Geomorphology and Soils Department at WCU, are specially trained in water issues.

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