Now that water experts have a plan for continued economic growth in the region, they’re turning to the people who have the power to make it happen.
The Catawba-Wateree Water Management Group earlier this year released proposals members say will extend the life of the Catawba River through 2100. A 2006 study found use of the river would exceed what it provides by 2048. Management group members outlined the plan Friday to the Catawba-Wateree River Basin Advisory Commission during the quarterly meeting.
“It raised interesting questions of long-term significance for this basin,” said Tim Mead, commission chairman.
The management group is made up of 19 members. Duke Energy joins 18 municipal water providers throughout the basin. The group took four years to complete the recent study and while utility managers representing the municipalities worked to create it, decisions to implement the plans will face county, city and town councils.
“Each of the members needs to get the elected officials they work for to support this,” said Kevin Mosteller with HDR Engineering, the consulting firm on the study.
Group members have met with elected officials in Charlotte. They’re taking their presentation on the road, in hopes of support from each municipality within the 4,750-square-mile basin crossing both Carolinas.
The new plan recommendations include:
• an 18 percent reduction in water usage from public suppliers.
• raising summer water levels on Lake Wylie, Lake Norman and Lake James by 6 inches.
• public water intakes, and power plant intakes belonging to Duke, would be lowered.
• speeding up the basin-wide drought response protocol, where drought stages could change weekly rather than monthly as they do now.
• revision updates at least every 10 years.
The reasons for a rosier projection are several. The 2006 plan estimated more interbasin transfers, or water drawn for use outside the basin, than the new plan. It also used the 2002-03 record drought in its scenarios, while the new estimates use the more severe 2007 drought. Partly due to the 2007 drought, there were significant reductions – in some municipalities up to 20 percent – in per capita water use factored in this time.
“What we’re trying to do here is allow the region to continue to reasonable grow, for a longer period of time,” said Jeff Lineberger, group member representing Duke.
Commission members Friday applauded the planning effort, but weren’t without pause on several issues. Gary Faulkenberry represents the southernmost part of the basin. Higher lake levels north of him mean less maneuverability of water during heavy rains.
“We’re so flood prone,” Faulkenberry said. “When I think about Wylie and Norman losing that capacity in flood times, it concerns me.”
Rick Lee, a former York County Council member, struggled with the source of basin-wide population increase projections of 1.37 percent to 1.6 percent. Those figures came from municipal estimates.
“We’ve always missed our population growth expectations,” Lee said. “Sometimes it’s double what we projected.”
Catawba Riverkeeper Sam Perkins called the recent plan “a very necessary process,” but worries too much of the conservation burden falls on municipal customers instead of Duke. By 2065, projections show 47 percent of withdrawn water will support public water supply compared to 43 percent for power production, 8 percent for agriculture and 2 percent for industrial.
Perkins also wants more done to limit interbasin transfers.
“For us to be bled of our surface water is very upsetting,” he said.
Then, there’s money.
“It’s going to cost money to do (implement the plan),” said Barry Gullet, management group chairman and director of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities.
Looking back to look forward
The area running out of water isn’t science fiction, group members say. It isn’t entirely forward-looking, either.
“Charlotte’s already run out of water once,” Gullet said. “It happened because of exactly what we’re talking about here.”
Charlotte’s water came from Erwin Creek in the early 1900s. The city outgrew the creek, and a drought hit. Stories, Gullet said, detail residents lining at a city well and waiting for water by rail car from Gastonia, which had an intake on the Catawba. Mountain Island Lake and Lake Norman didn’t exist then, but soon would in part to avoid such problems.
“There’s not another larger river to go to in reasonable proximity,” Gullet said of the current situation.
So planners look to make the best of the one they have.
“We’ve got to keep more water in the lake,” Gullet said. “That’s what this plan is all about.”