03/12/08 — Easley outlines water use proposals

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Easley outlines water use proposals

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on March 12, 2008 2:05 PM

If North Carolina is going to avoid future water shortages, leaders need more power to regulate water use in communities and more attention needs to be paid to conservation and to the condition of water systems throughout the state, Gov. Mike Easley said Tuesday.

With the beginning of the state General Assembly's short session only two months away, Easley introduced a three-part legislative package intended to modernize North Carolina's public water systems, mandate water conservation and efficiency and upgrade state and local response to water emergencies.

"A big part of this is attitude and mindset," Easley said. "People tend to get a little bit of rain and then forget to conserve like they need to."

The goal of his proposal is to not let that happen.

"We currently believe we have a 19th-century water system in place," Easley said. "This legislation will help North Carolina's public water systems improve their services to customers and be better prepared to deal with future droughts, but we also need to change our attitude about using water in North Carolina. We cannot let up on our conservation efforts. We want to make North Carolina drought-proof."

And the first step in doing so, is modernizing the state's 600 public water systems, requiring them to develop water shortage plans, conduct leak detection and repair audits, and move toward conservation-based pricing.

"Our legislation will require water systems to move forward on these items to be eligible for state funds (for water system improvement projects)," said Bill Ross of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Such system improvement projects will focus on upgrading the ability of a commuity to manage its water supplies during droughts -- interconnections for drought-prone systems, leak detection programs, metering upgrades and water re-use facilities.

The goal is to reward forward-thinking systems willing to work with their neighbors.

Also included in those efforts to modernize the state's public systems are required metering for in-ground irrigation, registration for businesses using more than 100,000 gallons of water a day, identification of all other large water users and electronic submission of federal monthly water use reports -- all efforts geared toward knowing how much water is used and where.

Under the proposed legislation, DENR also will be charged with developing conservation based rate structures to encourage people to use less water, while still keeping local water systems financially solvent.

That means eliminating flat rate systems and those that charge less as consumers use more.

Other pieces of the puzzle include revising building codes to require water-efficient fixtures in new commercial and residential structures, adopting new water efficiency standards for new in-ground irrigation systems, and changing water re-use rules so that household "gray" water from sinks, bathtubs and showers can be used for personal irrigation purposes.

The final initiative would give the govenor the authority to require communities in extreme and exceptional drought -- and not responding with their own adequate measures -- to meet a minimum state standard of water conservation as developed by DENR.

The legislation also would give local water agencies in extreme and exceptional drought the ability to impose mandatory water restrictions on all water users within their jurisdiction, including customers of privately owned water utilities regulated by the state Utilities Commission and owners of private wells.

Other proposals include a sales tax holiday for the purchase of water-saving devices and possible incentives to promote efficient water use.