It’s past time for representatives of the five local rural water associations to have seats at the table when important discussions are held concerning public drinking water in Wilkes County.
The Blue Ridge, Broadway, Moravian Falls, Mulberry-Fairplains and West Wilkes water associations should have been represented at the Home Town Strong event at the Wilkes Agricultural Center on Aug. 27.
Officials with 11 state agencies, including some involved with public drinking water supplies, attended the day-long program.
As part of Home Town Strong, representatives of these state agencies are going to all of the rural counties to learn firsthand about needs and challenges and what is working.
The idea is to build partnerships between state and local leaders and their organizations and leverage resources of both to improve local infrastructure and accomplish other goals. It’s supposed to also involve the private sector.
Each of the five rural water associations is a private entity, independent from the towns. Each owns its waterlines, buys treated water from the Towns of Wilkesboro and/or North Wilkesboro and sells water directly to its customers. The Blue Ridge Water Association buys part of its water from Mulberry-Fairplains.
As a whole, the rural water associations dwarf the three towns in numbers of water customers.
The West Wilkes Water Association alone serves about 12,200 people, more than the three towns combined. North Wilkesboro serves 4,245 people, Wilkesboro serves 3,705, and Ronda serves 907.
Totals for the other rural water associations are Blue Ridge, 8,052; Mulberry-Fairplains, 8,150; Broadway, 3,556; and Moravian Falls, 3,226.
That leaves fewer than 20,000 people in Wilkes on wells.
None of the waterline systems of the rural water associations have been mapped, according to the High Country Council of Governments. That could be problematic, if it hasn’t been already.
Town officials say a large percentage of the rural water association waterlines lack capacity for industrial and other heavy volume uses due to their small diameter. This makes economic development in Wilkes that much more of a challenge.
Waterlines aren’t being expanded where they’re needed in Wilkes to help bring about economic development. By default, Wilkesboro, North Wilkesboro and Wilkes County officials appear to prefer letting the Town of Elkin address this need in eastern Wilkes.
Another issue is the age of the water association waterlines. The bulk of these lines were installed decades ago and their age will increasingly become a problem.
Funding that was available when the lines were first installed is no longer so plentiful.
All of these conditions are good reasons for representatives of the rural water associations in Wilkes to be included in programs like Home Town Strong and to have more communication with state and local government officials.