MORGANTOWN — A $50 million project originally envisioned more than 60 years ago has entered its final phase.
Morgantown Utility Board Spokesman Chris Dale said the 70-foot-tall, 450-foot-long, 850-foot-wide earthen dam at MUB’s new George B. Flegal Dam and Reservoir has received the necessary clearances and MUB is ready to begin filling the 370-million-gallon reservoir.
“We have been authorized by the WVDEP to fill continuously up to the 14-foot mark on the intake tower. Afterwards, we will be filling approximately one foot per day,” Dale said.
MUB estimates it will take about three months to fill the reservoir, which will provide the utility with a 30-day secondary water source.
It stretches about 4,500 feet southeastward in the valley between Grafton Road and Kingwood Pike — along Cobun Creek Road and following the lines of Cobun Creek and Mountain Run.
The site is named for Morgantown Water Commission’s (MUB’s predecessor) first engineer/manager. In 1960, Flegal led the effort to purchase the land where the reservoir is situated and drew up plans for a new reservoir site.
The acquisition seemed particularly prescient in January 2014, when a Freedom Industries chemical spill into the Elk and Kanawha rivers contaminated water used by more than a quarter-million residents across nine counties for 10 days.
A similar situation in the Monongahela River, MUB leadership said at the time, would leave the area dependent on the Cobun Creek Reservoir in White Park, which holds a three-day supply, at most.
Within a month of the Freedom Industries spill, MUB issued a request-for-proposals for design services for a second reservoir. In February 2016, Morgantown City Council approved laws for construction bonds and new rates to pay for the reservoir project, as well as a $101-million expansion and overhaul of the utility’s wastewater treatment plant.
“This has been an amazing process that extends back to 2015 when we began hosting public meetings on the idea of constructing a reservoir,” Dale said. “It’s this sort of foresight and leadership that makes MUB a leader in the state.”
The project kicked off in March 2018 with tree removal on the 125-acre site. It was almost immediately behind schedule.
MUB’s original projection was to have the dam constructed by September 2020 and the reservoir filled in 2021. In April 2020, the completion window was pushed to winter 2021. In January 2022, it was adjusted again, to June 2022.
Along with delays, the project led to friction between MUB and the city of Morgantown, primarily over the raw-water pipeline connecting the reservoir to MUB’s treatment facility. After months of public, and somewhat contentious, negotiations, MUB ultimately agreed to fund the planting of more than 300 trees on city property as well as the construction of a new White Park trail and water crossing in order to clear a strip of park land to run the water line.
Further, the two sides have gone back and forth over recreation at the reservoir site. Last September MUB, Morgantown City Council and BOPARC executed a three-way agreement through which the city will utilize American Rescue Plan Act dollars to design and construct recreational components to be overseen by BOPARC.
Among the recreational amenities previously discussed are hiking and biking trails, infrastructure to support non-motorized boating, picnic areas, restrooms and parking.
While the project has been unique, and, at times, challenging, Dale said the peace of mind it will afford is worth the effort.
“We are fortunate to have a community that appreciates the need for clean, safe water and supports such projects,” he said. “After all, this project is about one thing: Protecting public health.”