State needs long-term fix

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 10, 2007

As Kannapolis and Concord await word today on a request to ensure a clean water supply for their residents and businesses, Catawba River advocates must know that we’re not trying to put our people ahead of theirs in the line to get water. We just want to be sure Kannapolis and Concord residents have a place in line should a drought set in again.

Mayors and other officials from communities along the Catawba River all signed a letter imploring the N.C. Environmental Management Commission to deny the interbasin transfer request or delay the decision. Whichever way the commission rules this week, it’s clear that legislatures in both states will need to address interbasin transfer — either to reinforce the current law or change the rules of interbasin transfer. This is not the only community looking for a better water supply.

Even Solomon would struggle with this decision. A plentiful, clean water supply is not an either-or thing. Everyone needs it. But how do you ensure that everyone has enough?

Three members of a state environmental panel reached a compromise of sorts last month, recommending that the two cities be allowed to withdraw water from the Catawba basin, but not as much they originally requested — 10 million gallons a day instead of 26 million. Let’s hope the final recommendation is not even lower. That may calm Catawba advocates who want to keep it all in their basin, but it won’t satisfy them; and it won’t satisfy Kannapolis and Concord’s needs, either.

The two cities have also applied for interbasin transfer from the Yadkin River, but that’s another story. Kannapolis already has a 15-year contract to pay for 300,000 gallons a day from the Yadkin through the Salisbury-Rowan Utilities Commission. That came about after the last severe drought, when Rowan County and Salisbury partnered with Kannapolis, China Grove and Landis to extend a waterline through southern Rowan. The towns had to commit to use some water to help cover the cost of the project and to maintain the quality of the water coming down the pipeline. But Salisbury has high water rates, and water from Charlotte (and the Catawba) would be much cheaper.

As this area and other parts of the state grow, the issue of water rights and interbasin transfer will come up again. Fortunately, we’re not in an emergency situation. The state needs to bring more certainty to the interbasin transfer process now, before another drought forces a decision during an even more emotional time.

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