Generations from now, or even sooner, the Wilkes County commissioners’ approval of a new agreement that retains the county’s rights to water in W. Kerr Scott Reservoir could prove to be an investment of vital importance.

Under the new agreement, approved last week, Wilkes County government must continue paying a certain percentage of W. Kerr Scott’s upkeep costs - virtually forever. The agreement is with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which built and oversees the dam and reservoir.

In return, the county still has rights to 33,000 acre-feet of water stored between 1,000 and 1,030 feet above sea level in the reservoir. Normally, that’s the top 30 feet of water.

Some might question approval of the agreement, since it doesn’t limit the amount the county could have to pay and has no termination date. The county commissioners approved it with great hesitancy.

The Wilkesboro and North Wilkesboro governing bodies dropped plans for a raw water intake on the reservoir less than a year ago due to estimated costs rising considerably higher than projected years earlier. As a result, the North Wilkesboro commissioners rejected an interest free, 30-year, $30 million loan from the state that would have funded most of the project.

In 2020, Wilkes County government will make its last debt payment from construction of W. Kerr Scott Dam and Reservoir in the early 1960s.

That might seem to be another reason for the county to stop paying a portion of W. Kerr Scott’s operation and maintenance (O & M) costs.The county has made these annual payments since the early 1970s. They peaked at $209,000 in 2012 and have averaged around $130,000 annually in recent years.

The new agreement continues the county’s payment of the same portion (half of 17.93%) of O & M costs.

Also under this agreement, county government has the added responsibility of paying half of 17.93% of “repair, rehabilitation and replacement” (R, R & R) costs at W. Kerr Scott.

According to County Attorney Tony Triplett, Corps of Engineers officials said the addition of R R & R shouldn’t signifcantly change what the county pays. Triplett also said they also made it clear that the new agreement was non-negotiable.  

The City of Winston-Salem approved the same agreement, so it still has rights to the other half of water stored between 1,000 and 1,030 feet above sea. Winston-Salem is obligated to pay the other halves of 17.93% of O & M and R, R & R costs.

The two governments each paid about $500,000 toward the $7.8 million cost of building the dam in the early 1960s.

Meanwhile, Wilkesboro plans to increase the volume of water it can pump from an existing intake on the Yadkin River and also enlarge its treatment capacity. North Wilkesboro plans to build a raw water intake on the Yadkin, thus replacing a small Reddies River reservoir that has siltation problems and hasn’t met needs during droughts.

The Wilkesboro intake is about 2 1/2  miles downstream from W. Kerr Scott Dam. North Wilkesboro’s new intake will be about two miles farther downstream, a short distance below where the Reddies enters the Yadkin. This will provide the town access to water from the Yadkin and Reddies rivers at one intake.

Triplett said county government’s right to water between 1,000 and 1,030 feet above sea level in the reservoir means it can request the release of additional water from W. Kerr Scott if necessary to provide Wilkesboro and North Wilkesboro the water they need.

The county board’s decision to approve an agreement that retains rights to water in W. Kerr Scott Reservoir to help meet future needs was the smart thing to do.

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