Four questions to ask your state lawmaker about the future of our water supply

The Observer editorial board

The Catawba River represents a crucial water resource for the Charlotte region.
The Catawba River represents a crucial water resource for the Charlotte region. Charlotteobserver.com

A woman stood up and asked an important question near the end of Tuesday night’s public forum on the uncertain future of our region’s water supply.

She asked for some good questions citizens can ask their elected representatives about what they are doing to keep the Charlotte region’s water clean and free-flowing.

It’s a good question because, as NASA senior water scientist Jay Famiglietti pointed out, groundwater supplies are dwindling, including here in the southeastern United States. The coming decades likely will be drier; rainfall in the Catawba River basin, which supplies the Charlotte region’s water, has fallen by 10 percent in the past 50 years.

Our elected officials, especially those in the General Assembly in Raleigh, can help ensure we don’t end up like water-starved California, which rivals parts of India and the Middle East for the world’s worst levels of groundwater depletion.

Here are four questions you can ask your legislators:

▪ North Carolina is one of just two states in the Southeast still following an antiquated legal concept that in theory allows landowners unlimited withdrawals from waterways running through their property. That can leave water systems serving urban areas with shaky water rights, and uncertainty about building new reservoirs or treatment plants. Will you support creation of a water permitting system?

▪ After the 2007-2008 drought, the state legislature ordered environmental regulators to create river basin water models to help gauge the impact of multiple water withdrawals and to aid drought-response plans. But models have been created for just five of the state’s 17 river basins. What will you do to ensure that the rest are completed?

▪ During Tuesday night’s forum, sponsored by The Charlotte Observer and Bank of America, speakers said that if we develop more renewable and solar energy sources, we can use less water for power generation. What are you doing to encourage more solar and renewable energy in North Carolina?

▪ Gov. Pat McCrory signed H.B. 765, disparaged as the “Polluter Protection Act,” into law earlier this year despite concerns that it will harm headwater streams that help filter pollutants out of other waterways. Can you explain how you voted on this bill, and why?

Then, there are the simple questions you can ask yourself. Am I wasting too much water on long showers? Am I flushing the toilet more than necessary?

It’s easy to take water for granted – until you turn the faucet on and nothing comes out. Utilities, regulators and environmental groups aren’t waiting for that to happen. They’re tackling the problem.

It’s time the rest of us got involved, too. Asking the right questions of the right people? That’s a good place to start.