Guilford County government currently plays only a minor role in matters related to water systems – that service has always been one provided by towns and cities.  However, that could change in a big way as Guilford County government is now considering the ways in which it could play a much larger part in that regard.

The Guilford County Board of Commissioners spent a good deal of time last week at the board’s annual retreat discussing the role the county might play as part of a large multi-county regional system that could promote more economic development across the county.

But that’s just one possibility.

A recent memo from county staff to the board outlined some of the possible courses of action Guilford County government may choose.

“With NC general statutes written as they are,” it states, “a County or multiple municipalities are afforded the prospect of choice around the discussion of Water and Wastewater resources.”

More and more, towns in the county are seeking to move from well water to municipal water and, at the retreat, it seemed obvious that the county would end up playing a broader role in seeing that happen.

  That has some residents in rural parts of the county worried because water often brings development and greater housing density.

The memo from county staff to the commissioners highlights some examples of how other counties have played a role in the expansion of water systems.

Cabarrus County, for instance, established the Water and Sewer Authority of Cabarrus County, and Guilford County could do something similar. In that county, the system is overseen by an “independent, incorporated public body funded by user fees that provides wholesale wastewater transportation and treatment for its organizing jurisdictions.”

At the commissioners retreat last week, Commissioner Mary Beth Murphy asked a question that has really never been asked before at a Guilford County commissioners meeting: Does the county want to get into the business of sourcing and providing water to others?

It would obviously be a complex endeavor, but it’s interesting that the commissioners are even entertaining that question. In the past, the commissioners have merely discussed ways the county could play a supportive role in helping other water projects that were considered economically beneficial to the tax base.

In Orange County, the staff memo to the Guilford County commissioners notes, there are three individual systems in operation – one for southern Orange County, one for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and one that serves the towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro.

Wake County, on the other hand, has a single operation – Raleigh Water.  That system provides water service to Raleigh and a half dozen other cities and towns in the county.

Mecklenburg County has a similar model with Charlotte Water, while Forsyth County has a “Joint Management Agency” that is the result of a 1976 consolidation agreement between the City of Winston Salem and the Forsyth Utility Commission.  Leaders there considered a unified system to be more efficient and less costly.

Guilford  County is still in early days when it comes to playing a role in water systems. However, whatever the model, it seems clear now that the county is likely to be much more involved in that arena in the future than it has been in the past.