Guilford County and the towns of Stokesdale, Oak Ridge and Summerfield have chosen Greensboro-based Timmons Group to conduct a water system feasibility study.

That study will help determine whether those four local governments move forward with a transformative water project that would greatly enhance economic development in northwestern Guilford County.

The four governments are in talks to explore the formation of a new regional water authority or a series of interlocal agreements that will initially be funded with $14.5 million provided by the state to look at the possibility of, and help implement, a municipal water service to northwest Guilford County and southwest Rockingham County. Rockingham County will play a role in the project but it does not look like that county will be part of a new water authority if that authority is in fact formed.

Guilford County used Timmons Group four years ago when the county hired the consultants to do preliminary work on Project Haystack – what backers hoped would be a giant data center park in eastern Guilford County on and around the site of the now defunct Guilford County Prison Farm.

That project never amounted to anything but the new water system project has much more credibility from the start. For one thing, it has nearly $15 million in state money.

Stokesdale already has a water system with water supplied by Winston-Salem. However, the proposed water system project, if carried out, could still help that town by bringing down prices, providing more water supply security and enhancing that town’s fire-fighting efforts.

The first step is the $175,000 study, which will be covered by the state funds. The breakdown of expenditures in the 12-step process is as follows.

Timmons will get $2,220 for holding a “kickoff meeting” between all parties involved, $19,000 to establish the needs and goals of those parties and to “identify and confirm corridors and locations with specific water needs.”

That will be followed by a $32,000 endeavor that will establish the project coverage area and identify potential water sources in or near that area. It will include the development of “preliminary service area districts and boundaries” and also identify large water users.

In step four, costing $4,300, Timmons Group will investigate the extent of privately owned water systems.

Step five, at $19,500, Timmons will take all records of supply sources and other data to “develop conceptual plans for phased water system improvements and identify service areas on exhibit mapping.”

Next, at a cost of $29,500, Timmons will help develop a preliminary “skeletonized” design of the water system. That will include “water demand projections based upon growth trends and local input (municipality planning departments, etc.)” It will also involve testing potential water sources.

In the seventh $11,900 step, the Timmons consultants will calculate the likely construction costs of the system as well as provide an estimate of the anticipated operational costs.

The study will also develop a preliminary water rate and fee schedule for $19,800, step 8, and, in the following step, investigate funding alternatives for $2,500.

Next, also at a price tag of $2,500, Timmons will provide governance options for different water authority scenarios.

In the final two stages of the study, costing $18,800 and $13,000 respectively, Timmons will meet with participants and prepare a complete report, and, finally, the consultants will wrap up the project with a presentation in a public meeting.

During the study, Timmons will hold “progress meetings” with the local governments after the first three months and at the time of completion. Though the estimate calls for the consultants to complete the study in six months, Timmons cautions that “due to the significant amount of communication and coordination required for this effort, we must note that this timeframe is subject to change should additional time be required to gather data.”

While Rockingham County now appears to have completely opted out of being part of the water authority or other governance method that would control the water in Guilford County if the project is undertaken, much of the $14.5 million the state has put in place will go to similar efforts in Rockingham County.

According to current state legislation, $3.6 million would be used in Guilford County, while the rest would be used for the study, design and construction of the water system in southern Rockingham County.

One possible plan calls for Rockingham County to bring water from the Madison-Mayodan area to the Guilford County line, where Guilford County would attach its connections for the three towns and surrounding areas.

Like northwestern Guilford County, there’s a growing need for municipal water in southern Rockingham County, and the water system in that area would be built as the water lines are extended in Guilford County’s direction.

The mayors and other officials in northwest Guilford County have spoken of the need for water for many reasons, and many Stokesdale officials are stoked about the project even though that town already has a viable water system.

Stokesdale Mayor Randy Braswell said the $175,000 will fund a very extensive study that should tell local leaders most of what they need to know about the proposed project.

Some residents in northwest Guilford County worry about new costs, mandatory hookup fees and the population and business growth that could intrude on the area’s rural charm.

Braswell said that, though one of the five city councilmembers in his town voted against doing the study, there was a great deal of optimism about it and what it could mean for that community.

He said that, since Stokesdale doesn’t have a town manager, and the city councilmembers aren’t water experts, the town has hired a water services consultant to offer advice regarding the specific needs of, and potential benefits to, Stokesdale with regard to the project.

“We needed to know all of Stokesdale’s options,” Braswell said.

Though Stokesdale already has a water system, he said, on heavy use days it becomes very clear that the town will need a larger one in the future.

“Stokesdale is booming,” Braswell said. “All of northwest Guilford County is booming.”

He said demand for water goes up with every new development.

According to Braswell, the town has a 300,000-gallon water tower, and some days it gets down to 100,000 gallons.

“In summer, on peak days, we use 150,000 gallons,” he said.

The town also has contracted for the use of up to 300,000 gallons a day of water from Winston-Salem, but, with current use rates, he said, that doesn’t provide much of a margin for emergencies or enough to accommodate future growth. He said that growth is only expected to increase.

“We sold 10 water meters last month and the month before that I believe it was 15,” he said.

Braswell said some major new housing developments are underway and, he added, their completion will mean a lot of homes coming on to the town’s water system in the not too distant future. He said he expects that growth to continue.

“We’re in a little paradise,” he said. “The potential for growth out here is enormous. These houses are getting sold as fast as they can build them.”

With the additional new housing developments, he said, it may not be long before the town is running up against that 300,000-gallon limit on water from Winston-Salem.

Braswell said that, with one water line currently coming in from Winston-Salem, if something happened to that source, the town could run out of water in two or three days. He also said that town leaders needed to plan for its needs 20 and 50 years down the line.

Despite the overall enthusiasm for the large study and potential project fueled by state money, there’s still some opposition from residents who share a wide range of worries.

Guilford County Commissioner Justin Conrad, who represents much of northwestern Guilford County, has stressed repeatedly this year that this is merely a study, using state funding, and there’s no guarantee any water system will be developed. He said the new study may show that it’s not feasible to create the water system or it may in fact show how it can be done, but Conrad said he can’t find any good reason why someone should be opposed to a mere study.

Still, everyone can sense the project gearing up in a major way, and some worry that the state working with the small towns and two counties will make the new water system a reality without truly analyzing the consequences.

Teresa Pegram, a lifetime Summerfield resident, said she’d been watching this situation very closely and she was very concerned about it.

“The public needs to know this is coming,” she said.

She said the town leaders in Summerfield haven’t spoken nearly enough about this project and its potential consequences given its immense importance to the residents in that area.

The area has a multijurisdictional water authority, the Piedmont Triad Regional Water Authority, which includes Greensboro, High Point, Jamestown, Jamestown, Archdale, Randleman and Randolph County. That authority was established in 1986 and began providing water in 2010. Hopefully, if this new project comes about in northwest Guilford County, it won’t take a quarter of a century before the water starts flowing.