Averting Water Wars in the Carolinas

Like many communities across the Southeast, Lancaster County, South Carolina is proposing a new reservoir as a way to attract and support new development. The new bi-state Catawba-Wateree River Basin Commission asked to hear from American Rivers at its December meeting about water efficiency and conservation alternatives to reservoirs. We were glad for the audience, and we’ve got plenty to share.

For many reasons, reservoirs are far from a sure bet to provide water supply – just think back to the drought of 2006-2009 and the clock ticking down on Georgia’s Lake Lanier. Nor are reservoirs a safe bet in terms of community finances: just look at Canton, Georgia [PDF], which is attempting to unload the massive debt it took on in order to build a reservoir.

At its recent meeting, the Catawba-Wateree commission engaged in a lively discussion of the many water efficiency alternatives available to communities. The commission plans to learn more about state-level water efficiency efforts in North and South Carolina at its next meeting.

This is good news. At the very least, Lancaster County, SC should be evaluating less costly, less damaging alternatives such as water efficiency or interconnections with other utilities. This would help in the county’s relations with its North Carolina neighbors, and would also protect the river itself from being overtaxed. In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has said the county should “exhaust” efficiency measures before proceeding with the reservoir project.

Reporter Bruce Henderson of the Charlotte Observer does a good job of highlighting these issues and others in a story headlined “Catawba Water Grab Feared”. As he points out, use of the Catawba River, which crosses the state line, has been a touchy subject in recent years and could well be one again.

Learn more about our suggestions for low-impact water supply solutions in the Southeast. After all, with other Southern states still embroiled in decades-long water wars over river and reservoir resources, which way do you think the Carolinas should go?