The Long-Range Water Supply Plan

OWASA Seeks Community Feedback on Plan for Increasing Long-Range Water Supply Resiliency

You can view the current Long-Range Water Supply Plan here.

Aerial Picture of Cane Creek During Drought

OWASA is committed to supplying reliable and high-quality water to our growing community and economy for years to come. The planning, permitting, and partnerships required in water supply development can take decades to develop and secure. That is why OWASA is planning for the water needs of our community two generations ahead.

In coordination with local planners, OWASA recently updated our 50-year forecast for water demands in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro community, as well as our projected water supply with current resources in a changing climate.

Our current water supply is at greatest risk from an extended drought. The watershed that fills the Cane Creek Reservoir is relatively small and slow to refill after a drought. University Lake has a relatively large watershed for its size, but offers significantly less water storage than Cane Creek Reservoir due to its shallow depth.

In updating our Long-Range Water Supply Plan, we used our 50-year forecasts to evaluate the need, costs, and benefits of various alternatives to increase the resiliency of our water supply. Based on this evaluation, OWASA determined that Jordan Lake offers the most resilient, cost-effective, and viable opportunity to meet future water demands. From here, further evaluation is needed to identify how best to incorporate water from Jordan Lake into our supply portfolio.

OWASA stands now at a decision-point to invest in the further analysis of options to improve access to water from Jordan Lake, and we want to hear your feedback. From October 2020 through the Spring of 2021, OWASA is actively seeking community questions and feedback on our plan to meet the water needs of our community today, in 2070, and every day in between.  To share your feedback,  please email OWASA’s Planning and Development Manager, Ruth Rouse.


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Ensuring Long-Range  Water Supply Resiliency






















Long-Range Water Supply Plan FAQs

Why is OWASA updating its Long-Range Water Supply Plan now?

The planning, permitting, and partnerships required to develop new supplies can take decades to develop and secure. Our predecessors did proactive planning decades ago to ensure we have adequate supply today. For example, we acquired the Quarry Reservoir in 1979, obtained our Jordan Lake allocation in 1988, and planned, designed, permitted Cane Creek Reservoir so it could serve as a water supply in 1989. We want to ensure that the community generations from now has adequate water supply to meet its needs.

We are also working with other communities to evaluate the potential to guarantee access to our Jordan Lake allocation. These other communities are beginning to move forward with plans to design a new intake and plant on the west side of Jordan Lake. OWASA will need to make a decision in the near future if and how it would like to participate in this new treatment facility.

Where does our water currently come from?

OWASA has three reservoirs currently. Cane Creek Reservoir is located about nine miles west of Carrboro. When full, Cane Creek Reservoir holds roughly 3 billion gallons. University Lake is located just west of Carrboro and holds roughly 450 million gallons. The Quarry Reservoir is located about three miles west of Carrboro and is in the University Lake watershed; the Quarry Reservoir currently holds roughly 200 million gallons used for emergency storage. OWASA treats roughly seven million gallons of water each day.

Are the baseline projections going up because of population growth?

Yes, our projections are based off of growth projections capturing both residential and commercial growth forecasts.

How urgent is needed action to increase our water resiliency?

Thanks in large part to the conservation ethic in our community, we have enough water supply under most circumstances for the next 30-40 years. However, we also want to plan for uncertainty in our projections and for factors such as how climate change may impact our water resources. We never know when the next drought will be, how long it will last, and how severe it will be.

I thought the Quarry Reservoir expansion was going to provide enough water for the future. What changed?

We factored the Quarry Reservoir expansion into our current projections. It will certainly add to our water storage, but it will not solve potential problems from prolonged or back-to-back droughts. The Quarry Reservoir is only filled through water pumped from Cane Creek Reservoir, which does not diversify our long-term water supply.

What about water conservation? Can demand management prevent or delay any need for additional water supply?

Our community has made great strides in water conservation, efficiency, and reuse. We identified and evaluated strategies that would take these efforts even further. Unfortunately, none of the strategies held enough water-saving potential to significantly increase the resiliency of our water supply. We will consider cost-effective demand strategies in a complementary water conservation plan.

Can we conserve enough water by retrofitting older buildings with upgraded water-saving fixtures?

We did evaluate this option, but there are no large, cost-effective opportunities.

Can we purchase water from neighboring utilities to meet our needs? Could Hillsborough or Orange-Alamance meet our supply needs?

OWASA has been working with other Triangle utilities since 2009 to collaboratively plan for the region’s water supply to improve the reliability and resilience of the area’s water resources. One of the results of this collaboration is the Triangle Regional Water Supply Plan. This Plan identified allocations for each utility from Jordan Lake and other supplies to meet their needs through 2060. Hillsborough and Orange-Alamance are too small to meet OWASA’s long-term needs. Hillsborough and Orange County both participated in the regional water supply planning effort (note: Orange County does not operate a water system but is committed to meeting the needs of its economic development districts identified in its plans). Both Hillsborough and Orange County need allocations of water from Jordan Lake to meet their long-term needs per the Triangle Regional Water Supply Plan.

OWASA also considered purchasing water from the City of Burlington. However, this alternative was not evaluated in detail as it would have required longer transmission lines than accessing our Jordan Lake allocation (i.e. less cost effective). In addition, it may not have been viable in the long-term given the growth occurring in the Triad.

How far along are the plans for the Western (raw water) Intake on Jordan Lake?

Plans for the Western Intake and Treatment Plant are very early. The Partners are selecting consulting firms to complete preliminary design and begin working on environmental permitting requirements in 2021. OWASA is currently participating in these discussions, but we have not decided on our level of engagement on the larger project.

Is the water quality in Jordan Lake up to standards we expect?

Jordan Lake serves as the drinking water supply for more than 200,000 North Carolinians. Water treatment processes are in place to ensure that all drinking water meets regulatory standards. The new treatment plant will also be designed to treat nutrients and contaminants of emerging concern.

We have strict rules about our drinking water supplies. Why would we go to Jordan Lake where we don’t control the supply?

Using OWASA’s Jordan Lake allocation would allow our local drinking water supplies to be prolonged in case of a drought. Jordan Lake has a very large watershed, and is, thus, more drought resistant than our current water supply. Additionally, some Jordan Lake alternatives also provide redundancy to our Jones Ferry Road Water Treatment Plant; no other alternative provides an additional treatment plant.

When will a final decision be made about this?

We are currently in the process of receiving community feedback on our evaluation thus far. This information will be presented to the OWASA Board of Directors in the spring of 2021. Our next step is to conduct more in-depth analysis on a short-list of alternatives. There is no firm timeline on next steps. Once a preferred alternative is identified from the short list, we will be going back for another round of community engagement.

Timeline of Key Events and Decisions Regarding OWASA’s Update to the Long-Range Water Supply Plan (2014 – 2020)

  • January 25, 2013 – Long-Range Water Supply Plan Updated
  • March 13, 2014 – OWASA Board of Directors (Board) adopts its Strategic Plan in which Strategic Initiative 1 was to “provide reliable and high-quality supply of water for the next 50 years”.  One of the key actions identified was to Update Long-Range Water Supply Plan. (Link to updated Strategic Plan)
  • March 27, 2014 – Board approved a charter for the Long-Range Water Supply Plan.  This document included a project vision, goals and objectives, a table of tasks, and goals for community engagement.
  • February 12, 2015 – The Board approved a Community Engagement Plan (CEP) for the LRWSP. (Updated on November 22, 2016)
  • September 22, 2016 – An overview of the work completed to date was provided to the Board.  We also obtained Board approval to send local governing Boards information regarding the LRWSP.
  • November 10, 2016 – The Board approved goals and objectives for the LRWSP based on the goals and objectives included in the charter.  The Board requested that staff revise the Community Engagement Plan to reflect topics that customers were most interested in: (1) how much water we had, (2) how much water we will need, and (3) what are the potential ways we could meet that need.
  • November 17, 2016 – Background information on the LRWSP was provided in the Assembly of Governments meeting agenda package as an Information Item in accordance with discussion from the September 22, 2016 Board meeting.
  • September 28, 2017 – An update on the LRWSP was presented to the Board.
  • November 15, 2018 – Staff presented draft water projections to the Board that were developed based on growth projections provided by the local governments.  The Board approved the overall method and requested that staff work with our engineering consultant to perform an uncertainty analysis around the demand projections.
  • March 14, 2019– Staff presented final water demand projections, which were approved by the Board.
  • September 12, 2019 – The Board approved the staff recommended supply and demand management strategies that would be evaluated in the LRWSP; staff described the process used to identify that strategies that included public input.
  • November 14, 2019 – Staff presented an update on the schedule and process to update the LRWSP.
  • December 12, 2019 – Staff presented a preliminary evaluation of our water supply risk based on our engineering consultant’s modeling analysis.
  • January 30, 2020 – Staff presented a more detailed overview of the supply and demand management alternatives being evaluating in the LRWSP at this special meeting of the Board.
  • August 13, 2020 – Staff presented a technical evaluation of the supply and demand management alternatives.
  • November 17, 2020 – OWASA staff hosted a public webinar to provide an update on the planning process and receive questions and comments.
  • January 12, 2021 – Ruth Rouse presented an update on the LRWSP to the Town of Carrboro Town Council.
  • January 13, 2021 – Ruth Rouse presented an update on the LRWSP to the Town of Chapel Hill Town Council.
  • February 16, 2021 – Ruth Rouse presented an update on the LRWSP to the Orange County Board of County Commissioners.
  • March 11, 2021 – Ruth Rouse presented the community feedback received to the OWASA Board of Directors.
  • May 13, 2021 – The OWASA Board of Directors instructed staff to develop guiding principles to use in evaluating water supply alternatives.
  • June 10, 2021 – The OWASA Board of Directors continued discussion on guiding principles to use in evaluating water supply alternatives.
  • July 8, 2021 – The OWASA Board of Directors approved guiding principles to use when evaluating water supply alternatives, including a comparison of alternatives to reliably access OWASA’s allocation of water in Jordan Lake.