At a recent Sierra Club meeting, I heard an environmental science professor speak about the river system that provides water for millions of Carolinians called the Catawba/ Wateree River Basin. This system has been on the watch list due to poor planning for several years. About half of the use of the river also goes to generate electricity for these same citizens through Duke Energy, so it is a multi-purpose river system. While this river basin is endemic to the Carolinas, the issue is more universal with water concern areas like California, Oklahoma, Texas, etc.
In previous posts, I have noted major concerns over our fresh water supply, noting it as one of our two dearest resources on the planet, with air being the other. Often citing Steven Solomon from his book “Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power and Civilization,” I noted a concern over our need to manage this resource, especially in light of the vast amounts of water that do not feed us, quench our thirst or help us stay clean, but go instead into non-crop irrigation, fracking and other fossil fuel and nuclear power production.
Further, one of the key impacts climate change has and will continue to have is on drought areas, making them worse. In fact, water provided cooling for power generation (while water is replenished, there still is a net loss of water) is so significant, that when we have a drought, we should not only conserve water, we should raise the thermostat and turn off the lights. The reduction in electricity use will save water as well.
Yet, until I heard this presentation which included excerpts from Duke Energy’s internal presentations, it did not hit me that we run a reasonable risk of running out of our capacity to support additional people in the Catawba/ Wateree River Basin. With our growth expectations for the area, even with modest growth, we will need to alter our mix of energy production in a dramatic way or we may very well run out of water. At a minimum, we will need to spend several hundreds of millions of dollars to add more water processing and waste management processing plants, as the ones we have will max out. Saying this last statement a different way, as we grow, we will grow beyond the capacity of existing plants to provide fresh water and treat sewage regardless of what the river might provide.
Even though the time period for concern is beyond the tenure of current politicians, we need to plan accordingly with a long term strategy. We cannot wait to act, as if we do, it will be too late to intervene. We need to have more active conservationist strategies per the counsel of previous Duke CEO Jim Rogers who liked to quote from Solomon’s book that “water is the new oil.” We need to be more concerted and aggressive in our move to renewable energy which need not require water usage. We must diminish fossil fuels not only for climate change reasons, but to afford us water to drink and cook with. And, we need to be prepared to build water and waste management processing plants before they max out.
Please note, I am not trying to be an alarmist, but more of a pragmatist. We must begin our planning and accelerate our actions. Not planning ahead is a key reason our Catawba/ Wateree River Basin has been included on the list of most threatened rivers. A final comment is Denmark which sits at sea level, developed a long term plan to deal with the encroaching seas due to climate change. The plan had to have consensus from multiple parties as it had to survive the terms of the political officials. That is what is needed here.