Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina
Groundwater Supply Wells for the Biltmore Estate
The Biltmore House is America’s largest residence at 178,926 square feet. Much has changed with the home and its grounds since it was first constructed in the late 1800s. Today, with two hotels and numerous restaurants, not to mention increased visitation, water demands for the Biltmore Estate have grown substantially due to the development of additional amenities for tourism at the estate. When the Biltmore was constructed, it was at the forefront of technology, including electrical power, an elevator, and an indoor heated swimming pool. But when the house was built, indoor plumbing was not common.
When the estate and house were built the estate developed its own water supply to provide for the needs of the Vanderbilts. The water system supplied for the demands of the house’s indoor plumbing system including 3 kitchens and 43 bathrooms. The estate’s water supply consisted of a totally undeveloped watershed that supplies water to the Busbee Reservoir. A 2.2-mile-long water line conveys water from the Busbee Reservoir to the Lone Pine Reservoir located on a hill above the house. A state-of-the-art sand filtration system treated the water prior to use. This system met the estate’s needs until the late 1980s when new regulations required the estate to connect to the City of Asheville’s water supply.
Growth of the estate, demands for additional water supply, and the dependence on a single water supply line from Asheville to the Estate raised concerns of vulnerability. McGill was commissioned by the Biltmore Estate to identify options to address potential susceptibilities of the water supply system.
Water demands for the Biltmore Estate are over 6 times greater than it was 30 years ago, growing from 20,000 gallons per day (GPD) in 1990 to 125,000 GPD today. Historically, the estate purchased 100% of its potable water supply from the City of Asheville. Managers became concerned with the vulnerability of the single City of Asheville connection, as well as the negative impact on tourism if a service line break were to occur or drought conditions resulted in “dirty” water for periods of up to 2 or 3 days.
The McGill water engineering team assisted the estate with the preparation of a preliminary engineering report to evaluate options to reduce vulnerability. Two options considered included a second water line connection with the City of Asheville and the development of groundwater supply wells.
The estate selected the groundwater supply well option. McGill and McCall Brothers conducted field observations of the estate property and underlying geology and selected two potential well sites. Our staff obtained well site approval from the Public Water Supply Section of NCDEQ-DWR. The team developed two deep water wells, each approximately 700-feet deep. Safe yield testing indicated a yield of 150 gallons per minute (GPM) or 108,000 gpd for each well. McGill completed a well water analysis and that showed only disinfection was needed for treatment prior to utilization of the wells.
McGill designed and obtained permits for distribution system improvements to connect the two wells into the Estates system. Improvements included approximately 17,000 linear feet (LF) of 6-inch and 8-inch water line, a chemical storage and injection system for disinfection and a new, 200,000-gallon prestressed concrete water tank to provide additional system storage.
The new system was successfully put to the test when the City of Asheville had a major water line break, shutting down supply of water to the estate for over 30 hours. The new wells were able to supply 152,900 gallons of water on the first day after the break and 162,500 gallons on the second day after the break, which supplied 100% of the estate’s demand, resulting in no disruption of service.
Providing cost-effective alternatives for our clients has been a benchmark for McGill. Helping Biltmore Estate find and develop the two water supply wells and the additional water distribution system infrastructure to supply the water supply needs for the estate’s operations and to reduce vulnerability to supply interruption is a perfect example of the services McGill provides our clients and our industry. Water is life and it not only protects public health, but drives the economy.
The Biltmore Estate attracts 1.4 million visitors annually, directly and indirectly, resulting in over 6,700 jobs in the Asheville area and an estimated economic impact of $583.2 million in FY2016. The Biltmore comprised 23% of the tourism industries economic impact in Buncombe County (Biltmore Community Impact Report 2016).