A Brief History
North Carolina’s first public water system was developed in the Town of Salem (now Winston-Salem) in 1778. By 1888 there were still only 12 cities with water supply systems in North Carolina, a mix of private water companies and publicly-owned utilities.
But as of 2015, the number of public water systems had exploded to approximately 6,151 in North Carolina alone, with a significant percentage of these systems (88%) dedicated to serving less than 500 people. This decentralization, intended to provide elements of control to these communities, makes it very difficult to cover costs, as water treatment plants and distribution systems benefit greatly from operational efficiencies of scale. These often unsustainable costs mean that reliable and high quality potable water, while not exactly thought of as a scarcity in our area of the country, is in fact a hard-earned luxury that is sometimes subsidized with Federal or State funds and carefully managed to continue meeting water quality standards.
So What Can We Do About It?
In our ‘imagining a day without water’ series, our engineers continue to develop solutions to protect the communities we call home. As we work with many systems spread across river basins and groundwater aquifers throughout the State, we’ve come to know the devoted operators who ensure that their water treatment plants remain sophisticated in their operation and perform to exacting standards. Since small system operators work equally hard to maintain their plants’ performance levels, many of their communities are considering mergers or structured, formal, sharing relationships to improve the quantity, quality and cost of water. And to help facilitate this, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality provides grant funds to assist these communities with a professional evaluation of potential mergers or regionalization of water and sewer systems. These are invaluable financial resources that should be recognized and protected.
Over the past 80 years, we have watched the ecological and political environments change as we help both large and small communities provide for their citizens, and we have performed many feasibility studies of water system mergers or regionalization efforts in response to those evolutions. The efforts of water advocates such as the US Water Alliance makes a world of difference, but the truth is we still fall short of depicting water in our great country as a precious resource. So on this Imagine A Day Without Water, we think it is appropriate to give thanks to the hard-work and dedication of the advocates, the staff, and the legislators who understand and promote partnerships to prepare for the future of water in North Carolina. In return, we will continue to imagine a day without water, so you don’t have to.