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January 2014
Let’s Not Take It For Granted!
By John Paul Galles

Let’s Not Take It For Granted!

     When you list the assets and strengths of this economic region, you might start with the Charlotte Douglas International Airport and then add the strong business community, the universities, the community colleges, the health care systems, the public and private school systems and certainly the central location along the east coast. However, what is most often overlooked and under-considered is the Catawba River…our single and primary source for drinking water to our community.

     The Catawba River begins in the Blue Ridge Mountains, collects the flows of a myriad of brooks and streams within its watershed basin, and follows a 112 mile meandering route through reservoirs to Mecklenburg County at the center of our economic region.

     Two water intakes pump raw water from Mountain Island Lake and Lake Norman to three water treatment facilities operated by Charlotte Mecklenburg Utilities (CMU). Those facilities treat 183 million gallons of water each day and provide drinking water to about 70 percent of the county population, which reached approximately 1,000,000 residents in 2013. This system is expandable to about 350 million gallons per day, according to CMU.

     Estimates place average daily personal consumption of water at about 150 gallons. Of course, water is also used and distributed through 174,800 service connections and 8,846 fire hydrants for fire protection and commercial usage as well as residential service.

     Adequate supplies of water for power generation as well as residential, commercial, industrial and agricultural uses are essential to our continued economic well-being.

     While, for the most part, we take our water supply for granted, it would be wise for us to consider the possibilities for contamination of our water supply as well as the increasing threats that come from an expanding population and industrial base.

     Fortunately, we have the Catawba Riverkeeper organization on guard to identify threats to our water supply. Federal and state regulations are also in place to protect water supply sources.

     Pollution comes from many sources. Two general categories include point source and non-point source pollution. Point source would be discharges from pipes emanating from businesses, farms and developments within the watershed basin. Non-point source pollution comes from runoff including rainfall and snowmelt. We must be extra vigilant about any and all sources including our own yards.

     One of the greatest threats to our water supply is its potential exposure to coal ash. Coal ash is waste created by coal-fired energy power plants. The Environmental Protection Agency has issued a proposal to regulate the management and disposal of such waste, but it has not been acted on as yet.

     In December 2008, near Kingston, Tennessee, there was a huge spill of coal ash from an impounded area. When the dike failed, 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash spilled into the Emory and Clinch Rivers and contaminated about 300 acres of land. The spill created a slow moving wave of toxic sludge and polluted water into the rivers. Homes and trees were knocked over. Over $1 billion has been spent on clean up thus far and the project continues into 2015.

     Certainly, a spill like that along the Catawba River would dramatically affect the quality of the water as well as the recreational use of the river and its enjoyment. A terrorist attack on our water supply could be similarly disruptive.

     These threats and others are not inevitable, but they are sufficient that we should seek to set up a backup water supply for our region. According the Catawba Riverkeeper organization, the avenue for that supply would be from the east through a pipeline from Lake Tillery to the east of Mecklenburg County. Lake Tillery lies about 60 miles due east along the Yadkin River.

     With over 1,000,000 people relying on fresh water from the Catawba River, we should be prepared with a backup supply to protect our long-term interests. It only makes sense. The Catawba Riverkeeper advocates building such a pipeline.

     Of course, we must be vigilant to keep the Catawba River itself clean, but for the sake of our community, we need to go even further to protect our interests with a backup supply from another source of fresh water. It will be better to act with a goal to be prepared than to act after we are confronted with problems from one direction or another. The old adage of, “It is better to be safe than sorry,” applies directly to this scenario.

     What do you think?

John Paul Galles is the publisher of Greater Charlotte Biz.
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