Study shows Catawba basin will have longer life

jmarks@lakewyliepilot.comMay 14, 2014 

— The latest forecast for the life of Lake Wylie and the Catawba River paints a less threatening picture than in the past.

About 2 million people depend on the Catawba River for drinking water, power generation and other needs. While a 2006 study projected running out of usable water in 2048, conservation and regional planning in a new model push that date out by more than a century.

The new model, released this week by the Catawba-Wateree Management Group, shows net withdrawals 15 percent to 30 percent lower than the 2006 estimate. While the previous study had about 420 million gallons per day being withdrawn in 2048, the new study doesn’t hit that mark until 2065.

“This reduction in net withdrawal is largely attributable to reduced plans for interbasin transfers, lower agricultural demand and per capita water use reductions by utilities over the past few years,” the new study states.

“Responding to future water needs is inevitable and is best done when we aren’t staring in the face of an actual water shortage,” said Jimmy Bagley, deputy city manager for Rock Hill. “This master plan is a collaborative, long-range and effective way to respond now rather than in the midst of a crisis.”

The water management group works on a more than 4,700-square-mile river watershed from Morganton, N.C., to Camden and includes 18 public water systems on 11 lakes, plus resource agency stakeholders from both states on the river and Duke Energy. The group formed in 2007 as an output of Duke’s federal hydroelectric re-licensing program. Part of the group’s initial task was to study and recommend ways to extend the river life. The 2006 study, also part of re-licensing, estimated by 2048 there would be more water required of the Catawba than it could produce without endangering wildlife and exposing water intakes.

“Without significant effort to manage water consumption, this generation could see a time when there will not be enough water flowing in the Catawba to support more people moving into the heart of North or South Carolina,” said Barry Gullet, director with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities. “Not enough water to support new jobs, produce more electricity to drive new industry or ensure the quality of life we currently enjoy.”

Future approach

As for Lake Wylie, the study predicts a long-term drop in net water withdrawals. The model peaks in 2015 at 46 million gallons per day withdrawn, dropping steadily to 33 million gallons per day in 2065.

Lakes James, Rhodhiss, Hickory, Lookout Shoals, Norman, Mountain Island, Fishing Creek and Wateree all project increases. A net increase for the basin comes in at 122 percent by 2065, up to 419 million gallons per day.

Of that total, 47 percent will be used for public water supply compared to 43 percent for power generation, 8 percent for agriculture or irrigation and 2 percent for industry.

Mountain Island Lake, which serves as Charlotte’s intake, will draw almost 200 of its net 205 million gallons per day for public intakes. Lake Norman will draw about 60 million gallons per day for public intake, and just less than that amount for power production.

Factoring in climate change and the record drought of 2007-09, the study recommends changes that will allow more than 200 million gallons per day in additional water to be safely withdrawn from the Catawba to extend the river’s life to 2105.

Improvements include increasing the summer target levels for Wylie, James and Norman by 6 inches and lowering water intakes at more than a half-dozen sites, including three on Wylie. The lowered Wylie intakes – two are corporate, the other belongs to Belmont – should be complete by 2045.

Other improvements include better water efficiency for homes and utilities. Per capita use for the Lake Wylie sub-basin is 76 gallons per day. The goal for 2065 is between 64 and 71 gallons.

According to the study, it “could take decades to implement” all of the needed solutions.

The Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation applauded the management group’s effort to bring water users together.

“While we are concerned with the scope, roll out schedule and some of the substance of this plan, we do feel these are all issues that can viably be addressed,” said Riverkeeper Sam Perkins.

Perkins wants to see more public input. He’d also like to see more consumption reduction for power production, and wonders whether recreational or other needs on the river will be accounted for during drought.

“The plan also seems to place most of the cost and burden of reducing water consumption on public water supply utilities within the basin,” Perkins said. “Because Duke Energy and the public water services consume roughly the same amount of water, they should play equal roles in reducing consumption.”

The study was funded by municipal stakeholders, who pay an annual fee, and large outside contributions. About two-thirds of the money for the master plan came from the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources ($400,000), South Carolina Department of Natural Resources ($250,000) and Duke ($200,000).

John Marks •  803-831-8166

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