03/13/08 — Local leaders ponder future of water use

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Local leaders ponder future of water use

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on March 13, 2008 1:46 PM

KINSTON -- After spending all day discussing water issues Monday at North Carolina's Eastern Region's water summit at the Global TransPark in Kinston, the question on the minds of every participant was where to go next.

For most, after hearing about options and ideas for conservation, reclaimed water, and stormwater reuse, it's a matter of educating residents -- perhaps beginning in the schools with the elementary and middle grades.

"I think really the next step is educating the public," Wayne County Manager Lee Smith said.

That's also likely to include further investigation into such options as aquifer recharging and groundwater protection -- as well as the one that everybody seemed interested in, the clean, fresh water being pumped out and simply discharged into the Pamlico Sound by PCS Phosphate in Aurora.

For others, after hearing about how water pricing can be used as a long-term conservation tool, it means going back and looking at rate structures.

"We're talking about how valuable water is, yet we're selling it for less than a penny. We're in essence, giving that water away," Mount Olive Town Manager Charles Brown said. "I think that's sending the wrong message. Everyone's going to have to wake up and realize what a precious commodity water is."

Other pieces of the puzzle -- incentives for conservation and use of reclaimed water and stormwater and other regulatory changes -- are likely to be discussed at the state level where the Environmental Review Commission is currently looking at a variety of issues.

Among those that Jean Klein, with Klein Consulting, formerly with the N.C. Rural Center, think will be brought up this year are statewide mandatory conservation triggers, statewide tiered rate structures and conservation tax credits.

"I can assure you that there will be legislation on this short session on water," she said.

In 2009, she expects further action to be taken on water supply allocation and management tools, stormwater use, reclaimed water use, further tax credits, inter-basin transfers and other interconnections.

"I believe we'll see a tremendous number of bills on water and water allocation. The challenge will be how we narrow that down to a few that are meaningful and productive," she said.

Already, Gov. Mike Easley has outlined a three-part initiative aimed at modernize North Carolina's public water systems, mandate water conservation and efficiency and upgrade state and local response to water emergencies.

His goal is for the legislature to take up the package, which focuses mostly on demand-side improvements and conservation, when it reconvenes for its short session in May.

In the meantime, Smith said he thinks the next step for the Eastern Region should include a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis for all 13 counties to identify exactly what resources are available, where those are and who can benefit from them.

Then, he continued, all 13 counties and the municipalities within them need to continue to come together like they did Monday.

"It's important to everybody and the water belongs to everybody," Brown said. "I think we need to continue with these regional summits."

Locally, officials plan to continue the cooperation between the county, Goldsboro, Mount Olive and the other municipalities and sanitary districts through the informal Utilities Commission.

And in Goldsboro, specifically, explained Public Utilities Director Karen Brashear, who attended the summit, they're hoping to finish a master utilities plan by the end of the year.

It will include a map and a long-range plan for the system and how it may interconnect with the rest of Wayne County.

Other local initiatives include the implementation of the county's comprehensive land use plan to help direct growth, as well as efforts to begin exploring the implementation of new water usage technologies in the county's and school system's new capital projects.

And it's only through those sort of efforts, Smith emphasized, that an adequate response to the water problems will be found.

"When you look at the commissioners' priorities, water and sewer was near the top," he said. "People are going to have to find a better way to do things. I really am afraid of what's ahead for us if we don't."