North Carolina Supreme Court Rules Asheville Retains Water System

Dec 21, 2016

Portion of the ruling in favor of city of Asheville

The North Carolina Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the city of Asheville, allowing it to retain control of its water system.  The decision seemingly ends a years-long struggle over the issue that pitted Republicans in the General Assembly against Democrats that run the city.  The full decision can be read here.

The North Carolina General Assembly first okayed the transfer of the city’s water system in 2013, amid decades long battles between Asheville and its neighbors over water issues.  That measure would have created a regional system instead, but the city successfully sued to stop that.  An appeals court then overturned that ruling, setting up a showdown in the state supreme court.  Barry Summers is with SaveOurWaterWNC.com, one of many advocacy groups that fought for the city to keep its authority.  He says the high court’s ruling is good for Asheville and beyond.

“Had the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the state and in the manner the state was asking, it would have set a precedent that swept aside the constitutional prohibitions and (be able) to do this to every other city in the state", says Summers.  "So everyone in the state needs to recognize they all dodged a bullet.”

The Supreme Court decision seemingly ends the issue, but Summers says it’s still possible that Republicans in the General Assembly that first pushed the change might try again.

“They jumped through so many hoops and tried so many ways to draft something that was constitutional.  I can’t imagine Representative Chuck McGrady has anything else to pull out of his hat", says Summers.  If they had a constitutional way to seize Asheville’s water, they would have done it already.”

McGrady, a Republican from Henderson County and the chair of the House Appropriations Committee, said in a tweet he hadn’t had a chance yet to read the court’s ruling as he was in Raleigh for the special session regarding House Bill Two.  

Asheville mayor Esther Manheimer released this statement following the court's decision -

“Today the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled that Asheville and its residents will keep and maintain our water system.  Many years ago, our City leadership made the bold and wise investment in a watershed and water infrastructure that provided the foundation for the robust water system we have today that provides safe drinking water for Asheville and its customers.  This ruling ensures that Asheville can continue to own this great water system and continue to provide safe drinking water for years into the future.  Asheville is committed to continuing to work with our regional partners to ensure all water system customers receive the highest quality service from the City of Asheville."