Speaking at the RLUAC quarterly meeting held on February 19th, Jim Perry, the Special Projects Planner for Lumber River Council of Government, stated that there is an “impending disaster” if steps aren’t taken to improve local water systems in the Fort Bragg region. Although referring specifically to the condition of many local water treatment plants, he also addressed concerns with the overuse of the groundwater aquifers and quality and availability of surface water as a result of inter-basin transfer proposals by the City of Cary.
The surface water issues that he discussed included the potential threat to the Fort Bragg Region with the proposed inter-basin water transfer from the Cape Fear River Basin to the Neuse River Basin. He explained that a recently prepared “hydraulic model” for the Cape Fear River showed that the permitted water out-take already exceeds the river’s capacity. He said that the day is coming soon when limits will have to be placed on municipal, county and industrial outtake. Concerning inter-basin water transfer, Jim said that there is a NC law that requires local governments to return the treated waste water back into the original river basin from which it was taken. Efforts to change or amend this law should be opposed.
The ground water issues emanate from the fact that most water users within the Cape Fear River Basin rely upon ground water – tapping into the aquifers. He explained that aquifers are not underground rivers, but are layers of water contained between geological layers of different materials. Within our region there are between four and five layers that are contained between clay. Our major aquifer waters slowly flow from the northwest to the southeast. Water contained within the aquifers are thousands of years old and very pure. When the extraction of water from the aquifers is done to excess “cones of depression” occur (as in the case of Smithfield Farms hog processing plant in Bladen County) leading to the potential for salt water intrusion from the ocean and subsidence of the land. These issues, compounded by the fact that it takes a very long time for the aquifers to recharge, leads to the real threat that the aquifers in our region can be permanently destroyed. Proposed fracking in the Lee, Johnson, and Moore County areas up-flow from our region, poses another real potential danger for the aquifers. Unfortunately, there is no way to decontaminate ground water once it becomes polluted.
Concerning water supply, Jim reported that many of the small town water treatment plants within the region are becoming very dated and are on the verge of collapse. He said that for too long water customers have been paying too little for the water they consume – resulting in little or no revenue reserves to upgrade the existing plants or build new ones. And, grant money that used to be available from the federal government has largely dried up. To remedy this situation taxpayers are going to have to foot a major cost – and the bill in coming due very soon. If not addressed, we will have a major water crisis.
He completed his remarks by observing that North Carolina is a water rich state. However, he warned that our water resource can be rapidly depleted if we do not quickly change our wasteful and destructive ways.