U.S. Water News Online
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Kathy Welch awaits the debut of North
Carolina's newest lake, Randleman Reservoir, after officials start
closing floodgates and filling it sometime next year.
The Randolph County resident has only one big complaint about the
project that has been a source of sometimes-heated debate for
"I don't understand why they won't allow horseback riding around
the lake," said Welch, who operates a western and English
riding-supply store near the new lake. "We're horse people, and
everybody in this area is horse people."
After years of battling skeptics who doubted the reservoir ever
would or should be built, project backers are only too happy to be
tackling issues such as Welch's that look ahead to the lake's
completion, replete with a regional park, a buffer of 2,975
undeveloped acres and miles of navigable water.
The $140 million project is important to residents of the Piedmont
Triad because of its future role as a primary source of drinking
water for the region.
Many communities, including Greensboro and High Point, do not have
direct access to a major water source sufficient to support their
That leaves them too vulnerable to shortages during extended
Greensboro leaders say the current drought would have put the city
in deep trouble had it not been for their cobbling together water
purchases from neighboring communities, particularly Reidsville.
The new lake in southern Guilford and northern Randolph counties
could be lapping the upper reaches of its dam within a matter of
Supporters sense a change in public attitude as months of
fast-paced land clearing, bridge work and other lake-related
construction near an end. They had so many doubters because of
environmental obstacles that beset the project before it won state
and federal approval, most caused by the urban and industrial areas
traversed by its major source, the Deep River.
"I think we have more believers today than we did even last year,"
said Darrell Frye, a member of the Randolph County Board of
Commissioners and a veteran representative on the Piedmont Triad
Regional Water Authority.
Although completion of the reservoir is imminent, there's no way
to hold its last leg to a precise timetable, said John Kime,
executive director of the authority formed nearly 20 years ago to
build the lake.
"Everybody thinks that once the dam is built, the project's done,"
Kime said. "But that's not the way it works."
In part, that's because filling the lake depends entirely on next
year's rainfall, specifically how much comes down within periods
short enough to produce lots of runoff.
Runoff is the key to whether it takes six to eight months or a
year or longer to fill the reservoir, said Tom Phillips, a member of
the Greensboro City Council and one of the city's three
representatives on the nine-member regional water authority.
"What we need is a good tropical storm to come through, not a
hurricane," Phillips said.
It doesn't help that the region has been caught in a drought this
year that lowered water levels in the Deep River, say Phillips and
others. Recent rain helped but didn't overcome the region's rain
Meanwhile, crews are finishing work on the last of 13 bridge,
road-raising and culvert projects in southern Guilford and northern
Randolph counties at a cost of more than $13.5 million.
Virtually all land clearing is complete in the new lake's basin.
And other workers are preparing new wetlands near the fledgling
lake. Wetlands are natural and man-made drainage areas with special
plants that filter pollutants from runoff before it enters the new
When the lake is filled, the only major part of the project
remaining will be building a plant to treat its water, something that
will take several years and has not been started yet.
But the lake itself is so far along that the water authority
recently approved rules on boating, fishing and other recreational
activities at the lake once it is filled.
Horseback riding is one of several activities banned because of
concerns about water quality. Officials worry about manure getting
into a lake that already faces environmental challenges.
Guilford County is doing its part to shield crucial parts of the
lake from urban development by building the new Southwest Park, a
project that could get under way next year.
Planners want to open the new park on the lake's northwestern
finger in mid-2008. It will have hiking trails, camping, ball fields,
a launch area for canoes and kayaks, and a variety of other
The lake's completion is eagerly awaited by owners of curb markets
and other small businesses near the fledgling lake.
"The people seem very happy for it," said Mahmood Ghazanfar, owner
of the Hilltop Store on N.C. 62 several miles from the new park.
"They are telling us, 'You better get ready for a lot more business.'
Residents of Randolph County express a variety of views. Some,
such as Welch, welcome it but want more or different recreational
Others mourn the loss of good farmland.
"They took a lot of our friends' lands, but progress has to go
on," said James Cockman, a volunteer at the Guil-Rand Fire
Randolph County will have limited recreational opportunities.
Voters there turned down a proposal last year to use tax money to
pay for park land.
Recreation on the southern, larger part of the lake will include
fishing and motorboating at the only place where gas-operated boats
can enter the lake, a bare-bones control facility to be run by the
water authority near Level Cross.
Frye said county residents may decide to do something more
elaborate once the lake is filled and they get a better sense of its
Guilford's 513-acre Southwest Park will be geared toward "passive"
activities that are more nature-oriented, such as hiking and
bird-watching, and less toward organized sports, Guilford planner
Roger Bardsley said.
The county also might buy land to help buffer the lake or its
tributaries with some of the $10 million in "open-space" money that
Guilford voters approved in late 2004, said Jack Jezorek, chairman of
the committee that's deciding how to spend the money.
Environmental questions still remain about the lake. On the lake's
northern edge, the Deep River passes the defunct Seaboard Chemical
Co. and the former High Point landfill, which release residue of
hazardous waste into the stream.
High Point's Eastside Wastewater Plant also will release large
volumes of treated sewage into northern sections of the lake.
Steps will be taken to eliminate or blunt the impact of these
intrusions, but experts will only know how successful they have been
after the lake is filled.
The last phase of the project will be building a $60 million water
plant to treat the water, expected to open in about five years.
Treatment would be more costly, experts say, if the quality of the
lake's "raw water" is lower than desirable.
But that's an issue to be tackled after the lake has been complete
for a while and its chemical profile is established through testing.
For now, a lot of people are just looking forward to the birth of
a lake that is rewriting the landscape in parts of two counties.
"We've gone through all the destruction and road closings," said
Tony Denny, owner of Cedar Square Grocery and Grill in northern
Randolph. "I think everybody is just anticipating the thing actually
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