What would you do if there came a day without water?

Most Americans take water for granted. They turn on the tap, and clean water flows out. They take a shower or flush the toilet, and dirty water goes away. We hardly think twice about the infrastructure that brings water to our homes, and safely returns water to the environment – but we should. The reality is, a surprising amount of water infrastructure in the Carolinas is aging and even failing. While most of us cannot imagine a day without water, there are many communities that have lived, and are living, without water because they don’t have safe and reliable infrastructure. As citizens go to the polls next month to vote in the midterm elections, the next wave of lawmakers in both state legislature and Washington need to make water a priority so no American has to imagine a day or life without water.

Today, October, 10, we are proud to team with thevalueofwater.org to raise awareness of this risk.

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A Day Without Water = Crisis

What does a day without water really mean? It means no water to shower or flush the toilet, no water to drink or cook with, and no water to do laundry or dishes. A single nationwide day without water service would put $43.5 billion in economic activity at risk and would make it impossible for doctors, firefighters, and farmers to serve our communities. Our water infrastructure supports every facet of our daily lives – both personal and in business, but our water infrastructure is facing incredible challenges. Demographic and climate pressures, such as increased natural disasters, drought, flooding, and wildfire, threaten our infrastructure and increase the possibility of a day without water. These challenges look different to different communities and will require local solutions, but it’s clear that reinvestment in our water systems must be a national priority.

Reinvestment in Water Infrastructure = Opportunity

The good news is that closing our nation’s water infrastructure gap would generate over $220 billion in total annual economic activity, create and sustain over a million jobs, and guarantee our public health and environmental safety. National polling shows 88% of Americans support increasing federal investment to rebuild water infrastructure, and 75% of Americans want Congress to invest in our nation’s water infrastructure before our systems fail.

So how do we make the most of this opportunity?   No other issue facing our public officials has such a broad consensus, and 2018's elections are some of the easiest ways to vote for leaders who share our values. Make sure you are registered and then take the time to go and make sure your voice is heard. Then, while we’re waiting for changes to be made on a broader scale we can all find ways to give back locally. For example, find a time to volunteer for a river cleanup or fundraiser with Sound Rivers, a nonprofit that guards the health of the Neuse and Tar-Pamlico River Basins. However you choose to speak up and get involved, investing in our water means no American will have to imagine a day without water.

Imagine A Day Without Water

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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.