State gives reservoir project an unprecedented pass

By Bruce Henderson - The Charlotte Observer
The state agency charged with protecting North Carolina’s waters let plans for a controversial water-supply reservoir west of Charlotte advance with no scrutiny.
Cleveland County Water, which serves rural residents, had labored since 2000 to win approval for the impoundment. Environmental rules make reservoirs hard to build because they drown streams, wetlands and rare species.
In an unprecedented move, the N.C. Division of Water Quality made the path easier. The division simply waived a state permit that says the project won’t hurt water quality.
The decision last month came after Republican-led legislators ordered regulators to collaborate with communities in building reservoirs.
Federal authorities disagree on the Cleveland County reservoir’s impact.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which also has to sign off on the reservoir, says it would cover 1,500 acres of forest and farmland, destroying 24 miles of streams, six acres of wetlands and a federally threatened plant community.
The Environmental Protection Agency has also urged the county to look for alternatives.
Federal authorities can’t approve projects that may hurt water quality, from freeway construction to hydroelectric dams, until the state does. That gives North Carolina a veto to stop environmental damage or allow it with special conditions...
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