Water Efficiency in North Carolina

North Carolina is at a crossroads. The combination of population growth and climate change will put increased stress on available water. Communities are scrambling to identify water supply solutions and, as documented in the Hidden Reservoir’s report, water efficiency is the quickest, cheapest way to assure reliable long term water supply. 

Water Efficiency Policy

The best and first solution for North Carolina’s water supply issues is reducing water waste. The average residential water use in the state is around 70 gallons per person per day of purified drinking water. The goal for the state should be to put in place policies that reduce that average water use down to close to 45 gallons of drinking water per person per day, what a conserving household would use. Communities can upgrade their infrastructure inside and outside the home to reach these goals by fixing leaks, retrofitting outdated fixtures, and reducing the dependence on drinking water for irrigation and toilet flushing.

The first decade of the 21st century NC saw two droughts of record (2000-02 and then again, and worse, in 2007-08). This sent a shock to most communities across the state. Their reservoirs dried up and drastic measures had to be instituted. Policy makers started to tackle the issue to assure that clean drinking water was available. 

The State is starting to look seriously at managing the long term water demand. After the 2002 drought, policy was enacted (HB 1215) that required local communities to develop long term water supply plans and called for an analysis of what ‘conservation’ measures were already being undertaken. During the 2007-08 drought, the NC General Assembly built on HB 1215 through the 2008 Drought Bill. Section 9 of the bill was the first time state policy had required water efficiency primarily through funding restrictions.

The NC General Assembly took the next step in increasing water efficiency during the 2010 legislative session enacting the NC Water Efficiency Act. In its original form, as it was introduced, it took modest steps to reduce per person average daily water use. The final policy compromise eliminated most of the strong water efficiency language, but did require water systems to plan for long term water reductions, requires the development of a water efficiency best management plan (BMP) manual, and initiates  financial oversight of local government water plans by the state Treasurer.

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