News from Asheville

Damage from Fred shuts down a primary Asheville drinking water source, Bee Tree Reservoir

ASHEVILLE – Heavy rains from Tropical Depression Fred have ripped open streams feeding a lake that is a primary drinking water source for the region, causing its shutdown.Responding to questions from the Citizen Times, Asheville Water Resources officials confirmed that the Bee Tree Reservoir had been shut down for two weeks because of “poor water conditions.” “Turbidity in the reservoir increased dramatically during the day on Aug. 17, which resulted in the need to close the water treatment plant until conditions improve,” Water Services Director David Melton said Sept. 1.Water service has not been affected because of the large capacity of other sources, including the much bigger North Fork Reservoir, he said.Melton said he hoped the reopening of Bee Tree and its William DeBruhl Water Treatment Plant would happen “within the next two weeks.” Bee Tree and North Fork are the two primary sources for the city water system, which serves Asheville and parts of Buncombe and Henderson counties, according to the city’s annual water quality report. The system’s third source is a treatment plant that can draw water from the Mills and French Broad rivers. The system is known for its high water quality, a factor that helped spur the area’s beer industry.The two dammed lakes sit amid 20,000 acres of “highly protected” eastern Buncombe forest owned by Asheville, according to the city’s 2020 water quality report. The city gave permission for the pristine area to be used in the 2011 filming of “The Hunger Games” movie. Forestry staff surveying Bee Tree found no landslides but did see “scouring” of stream channels that likely sent dirt and other particles into the reservoir, said Bill Hart, North Fork Water Treatment Plant supervisor.”Scouring in this case means that the storm water removed all of the debris from the banks of the stream and caused the banks of the stream to erode and become wider. That soil and debris is what caused the turbidity issues,” Hart said.The portion of Bee Tree Creek flowing out of the reservoir flooded heavily during Fred, scouring an entirely new channel and picking up debris, including two homes.The recently improved North Fork is producing extra drinking water to compensate for the Bee Tree shutdown, Melton said.”Fortunately, we have plenty of capacity for water production elsewhere in our system. The North Fork Water Treatment Plant can produce 31 million gallons per day,” the water services director said.Answer Man: No hydro-power at North Fork Dam? Plastic paper bags recycled?Melton was out of the office Sept. 2, but city spokeswoman Polly McDaniel noted the relatively small output of Bee Tree compared to North Fork and said managing turbidity was a regular part of the operation, particularly during storms. “We have water treatment plants that go down and come back up for various maintenance reasons from time to time,” McDaniel said. “As the city’s delivery of high-quality clean water to customers was not interrupted there is no reason to detail the specific inner workings of these facilities.Bee Tree was the city’s primary water source from 1928 until 1955, when the North Fork came online, and it was converted to recreational use. Bee Tree was reestablished for drinking water production in the mid 1980s and can now supply more than 5 million gallons daily. The North Fork’s 2020 $40 million upgrade paid for by water customers increased its capacity and better enforced the earthen dam against major storms and seismic activities. The project won a 2021 Rehabilitation Project of the Year Award from the Association of State Dam Safety Officials.Joel Burgess has lived in WNC for more than 20 years, covering politics, government and other news. He’s written award-winning stories on topics ranging from gerrymandering to police use of force. Please help support this type of journalism with a subscription to the Citizen Times.

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