CTNC and the Asheville City Council have come to a final agreement on a new conservation easement that strengthens protections for the city’s drinking water supply watershed. Recorded on January 28, the “new and improved” easement replaces one that had been in effect since 1996. (The easement is a permanent legal agreement that restricts activities on the property that could degrade water quality, forest health, wildlife habitat, or scenic views from the Blue Ridge Parkway).

Asheville’s North Fork Reservoir and Bee Tree Reservoir are fed by creeks and streams trickling down more than 17,000 forested acres in the Black Mountains.

The Asheville City Council had unanimously approved a new draft easement on December 11, 2012, and the parties worked diligently since then to complete a final document. CTNC will hold the easement, and the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC), the local land trust based in Asheville, will serve as the “backup holder” should that become necessary.

The easement’s top priority is to care for the land to ensure high water quality in the streams and reservoirs.  A key new provision is that commercial logging is prohibited on the property.  The agreement calls for a forest stewardship plan to guide activities that will maintain forest health and wildlife habitat.  And, the easement ensures that spectacular views of the watershed along fifteen miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway will remain unspoiled. 

The agreement was reached amid the backdrop of great controversy and uncertainty regarding future ownership and management of Asheville’s water system.  Members of the General Assembly are writing a bill that would transfer authority from the city to the Metropolitan Sewerage District.  The fate of that legislation remains to be determined.

“The new agreement guarantees that no matter who is in charge of Asheville’s water supply in the future, stronger protections for water quality, forest health, wildlife habitat, and scenic views will be locked into place forever,” said Reid Wilson, CTNC executive director.

The Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy was a crucial partner throughout the redrafting of the agreement. “When the original easement was put into place in 1996, it was state-of-the-art. However, in the years since then, we’ve learned a great deal about how to strengthen such agreements so that they withstand the test of time. It was wise for the parties to take action to strengthen the protections for the watershed,” said Carl Silverstein, SAHC executive director.

“It was nearly 100 years ago that Asheville’s leaders began acquiring lands in the watershed,” said Marc Hunt, a member of the Asheville City Council. “They knew that protecting the land that feeds the water supply was critical to public health and economic growth.  Approval of stronger permanent protections will build on that legacy and will ensure safe and plentiful drinking water for generations to come.”