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HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. --
So maybe the Catawba River won’t run out of water in 2048, after all.
In recent years leading water experts in the Catawba Basin projected by 2048, the amount of water needed from the river would match or exceed the amount it provides.
Planners used and continued to use that date not as a deadline for impending crisis, but as a model to plan for ways past 2048 without drying the river.
Now, leaders say, progress is being made. Kevin Mosteller, consultant with the water management group created by Duke Energy’s federal relicensing process, told the Catawba-Wateree River Basin Advisory Commission during Friday’s quarterly meeting at the water treatment plant in Huntersville that it’s “generally true” the Catawba will be able to the meet water needs of its communities for 50 years.
His group is about halfway through a two-year process that, among other tasks, will update the model used to project when the Catawba’s demand will exceed its yield.
A $1.2 million master plan – $850,000 has been raised so far through state and large corporate contributions – is forecasting reduced water usage. One estimate showed the water withdrawal amount previously shown in 2048 wouldn’t be matched until at least 2065. A variety of factors will go into the final projection, including population figures, industry demand, drought response and utility improvements.
“In all cases so far,” Mosteller said of the estimates, “they’re changing for the better.”
The water management group consists of 19 members along the 11 reservoirs and riparian sections of the Catawba, including Lake Wylie.
Experts say the new modeling should be precise compared to older ones, able to account for water consumption by the type of use, even individual user.
Gains also are being made by the public, where water use per capita is decreasing. Tom Reeder with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in North Carolina, said the gallon-per-day usage of a connection in that state is down from 418 gallons in 1997 to 289 gallons in 2011, based on averages of the 10 largest public water systems. The residential use dropped from 221 gallons per day to 165 gallons in that same span.
“All credit for those reductions should go to local utilities,” Reeder said.
Commissioners on Friday noted the loss of textile industry in that span and the overall economic decline of late.
“The economy was going great guns from 1997 to 2008,” said Barry Gullet, director of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities and organizer with the management group.
There is still concern about setting a new water deadline. The 2048 projection was based on data including the 2002 drought of record, while the new set includes the more severe 2007 drought.
Many of the utility responses accounted for in the new figures – lowering public intakes, rerouting effluent flow upstream – aren’t currently approved.
“That involves a lot of energy and a lot of expense,” Gullet said, “but it may become necessary.”
Other factors, such as climate change, can still vary. Yet at a meeting where commissioners heard of water shortage issues nationwide and a wide-ranging approach to overcoming them, and facing the need to “extend out” their own potential shortage, experts say their approach is making an impact.
“We’re leading the way,” Gullet said.