Undercurrents: beneath the obvious

January 6, 2007

Catawba basin water war is glimpse of future

Filed under: Great Lakes Compact,Water Diversion,Water Wars — nemo @ 9:51 am

Political battles over water aren’t unique to the Great Lakes region. North Carolina is having its own little water war and the Charlotte Observer is covering it. What makes this article special is the series of questions it asks:

The issue hasn’t made a big ripple in Charlotte. But get outside of the Great State (of Mecklenburg, that is), and you’ll find people steamed over a proposal from two Cabarrus County cities to take water from the Catawba River and, when done, send it to another river basin.

The technical term for what Concord and Kannapolis want is an interbasin transfer — or IBT — of up to 26 million gallons a day from the Catawba basin and 10 million from the Yadkin. City, town and county governments all along the Catawba and even the S.C. attorney general are saying they’ll sue if North Carolina grants the IBT.

The key problem is this: Most places like growth. But growth requires water, and it isn’t unlimited. So who gets it? The places sitting near good water supplies? Or should natural resources be treated as if they’re held in common by all, and shared?

After all, the Catawba, the Yadkin and even the humblest creek are all “waters of the state” — a publicly held resource.

So is it right to tell Concord and Kannapolis, “We’re keeping our water on our side of the ridge, so I guess you can’t grow”?

How smart is it, for a metro region that essentially functions as one economy, to let a couple of major municipalities dry up, literally and economically? A regional economy isn’t a game of you-lose-we-win. It’s an interconnected organism in which the whole suffers when a part suffers. We’re all in this together.

But on the other hand, if Mother Nature says no, how smart is it to ignore that? Facing up to the truth — that natural resources have limits — is important if humans are going to continue to occupy this planet.

The answers to these same questions are playing out in Ohio as the Ohio Senate debated the Great Lakes Compact last December and it will play out in every Great Lake State and Province. Will any State deny growth simply because that growth is occurring outside the basin? Chicago didn’t and Wisconsin would like to follow Chicago’s lead. The Ohio Senate debate centered on this question: “Why should Ohio give up its sovereign power to control the use of Lake Erie water within Ohio?”.

What governmental authority will go along with the “common good” if it results in limited economic (tax base) growth?

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