Drought provides an important lesson

Published 7:07 am Friday, October 19, 2007

By Staff
It appears Mother Nature may be able to do what government officials aren’t able to do.
The drought throughout the Southeast has forced all of us to come to grips with the idea that there are limits to just how fast we can grow. In a way, that could be a blessing, and the drought can be considered a wakeup call.
The Inner Banks has escaped, for now, the problem that has troubled the Piedmont and western portions of the state. While it’s still dry down east, we haven’t had to deal with the water-use restrictions that have been imposed elsewhere. That’s more because we have a huge underground aquifer that other areas aren’t blessed with, and not because of smart planning.
Some folks in coastal North Carolina have looked with envy at the huge population explosion farther west of us. Cary is one example. The Raleigh suburb grew by 5 percent in just one year, 2005 to 2006. That may be good from an economic standpoint. More people mean more money and more political clout. But growth also taxes the natural resources and infrastructure. More people mean more schools and roads, and it means a greater demand for the ultimate resource, water.
The population of urban areas of the Piedmont rose by some 27 percent between 1990 and 2000. The coastal areas on the other hand grew by about 17 percent, and some counties like Washington County actually lost population. While they may have been left out of the population boom, they can now see that may not be all bad.
North Carolina is not alone. The metro-Atlanta area has about 90 days’ worth of water left, if there isn’t a break in the drought. Some Georgia folks say Atlanta brought the crisis on itself.
Others echoed Holland’s sentiments in discussing such plans at Armstrong Atlantic State University’s University Center. The plans lay out the use of controversial water-supply methods such as storing treated water in natural aquifers, taking water from one area to use in another area and desalinating sea water. But those may be short-term fixes.
Environmentalists contend Georgia should have been better prepared for a water shortage, which they say is an inevitable result of decades of pro-growth policy that led to metro Atlanta’s sprawl.
Bob Scanlon, facilities maintenance director for Savannah, did not offer a public comment at a meeting Wednesday, but afterward he said the city sees science as being critical to the plan.
Hopefully, the drought will ease soon and the crisis can be averted. After that, we hope people won’t soon forget the problem we had and how we got there. North Carolina can continue to prosper and grow, but it can’t do it without proper planning. That may mean making tough decisions that limit growth. It will clearly mean that we have to bite the bullet and pay for some costly infrastructure improvements that have been put on the back burner.
Conservation needs to play a large role in our direction for the future, but short-term conservation isn’t the magic bullet; proper planning is.