Are we running out of water?

In the winter of 2007-08, eastern Wake County, including Raleigh, nearly ran out of water. Due to the geography and geology of the Piedmont region – even with good average rainfall – we have low water resilience. Water does not last because of small streams, permeable soils, and little freshwater storage capacity. Changing weather patterns (due to global climate change or natural circumstances) can quickly reduce area rainfall, leaving us in the Piedmont at serious risk. Wake’s population is due to double to 1.2 million by 2030, further challenging water supply. State and local government should act with an eye to the future, taking the critical steps in water conservation and efficiency, land use planning, regulations to ensure an adequate, clean supply of water for us today and tomorrow. Plentiful, clean water is among the assets that will help keep Wake County healthy and competitive for the future.

Fast growing cities like Raleigh require critical water resource planning to ensure that future generations have enough clean water to drink. In light of this, The Public Utilities Department has released the 2013 Water Resource Assessment and Plan. Basically, without action for additional water storage, water supply for Raleigh and Eastern Wake County will reach limits for projected growth by 2060. Read the complete assessment here.

Another controversial issue being discussed are “inter-basin transfers”. This method is a withdrawal of water from one river basin, followed by use or return of some or all of that water to a second river basin. Transfers are controversial because of the water supply reductions that are created in the originating basin. In his article, NC should make wise water decisions in times of plenty, Dr. Greg Characklis of UNC Chapel Hill goes into greater detail about the matter.

Where does your drinking water come from?

The majority of Wake County residents get their water from Falls Lake and Jordan Lake, which were created for flood control, recreation, wildlife habitat, and drinking water. Man-made reservoirs like Falls Lake rely largely on local rainfall to maintain adequate lake levels for municipal water supply, and to provide sufficient river flows downstream. Falls and Jordan Lakes are polluted and are filling up with sediment, as a result of development, agriculture and more.

Is your drinking water in danger?

In addition to water quantity, water quality is a significant concern for Wake County’s water supply. Stormwater contamination from automobile fluids (such as oil, gasoline, and antifreeze), pesticides, fertilizers, sediment, pet waste, and litter, as well as point source discharges from sewage treatment plants and industry, pollutes our local water supplies.

The situation is getting worse as development in the watersheds increases the amount of urban, road, and agricultural runoff into streams feeding the reservoirs. Polluted water is more costly to treat for drinking, as it requires increasing amounts of chemicals to make the water potable. Wastewater discharges and contaminated stormwater runoff have resulted in both Falls Lake and Jordan Lake being added to North Carolina’s list of impaired waters. Solutions to water challenges WakeUP advocates for long-term water supply planning, year-round water conservation measures, rainwater capture and other water efficiencies, and a fair way to pay for the high costs of future infrastructure needed for water supply and water and wastewater treatment. New development and those moving here should pay their fair share for these infrastructure expenses.

Where do we go from here?

The 21st century is North Carolina’s time to redeem the infrastructure inattention of the previous century. Water management facilities including bridges, dams, coastal protection, and drinking water provision will be in serious consideration. Read “NC should invest in water, the new oil”  to find out what else the 21st century brings.