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Catawba 'water war' nearly over

Posted: November 16, 2010 6:04 p.m.
Updated: November 17, 2010 5:00 a.m.

The ongoing water usage dispute between South Carolina and North Carolina looks to be near a resolution after a meeting Friday in Huntersville, N.C., where representatives from both states agreed on a compromise.

Once the conceptualized agreement is drawn up and signed by both states’ attorney generals -- South Carolina’s Henry McMaster and Roy Cooper in North Carolina -- the federal Supreme Court case, brought on by McMaster in 2007, will be thrown out.

“We hope this accomplishes the original objective, which is to protect the water supply from the Catawba,” said McMaster. “It will greatly enhance the communication between all the parties involved.”

Those parties, McMaster explained, include both states, the South Carolina departments of Health and Environmental Control and Natural Resources, and their North Carolina equivalents.

McMaster stressed the final agreement hasn’t been put down on paper, and that specifics needed to be “fleshed out.” But he said it will aim to be a “detailed mechanism outlining a series of steps” to communicate any water transfers from the Catawba River.

The “water war” first revolved around whether North Carolina was withdrawing more than its fair share of the Catawba River, a vital water source for counties and cities that spans more than 200 miles though both Carolinas.  

According to David Merryman with the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation -- an organization that oversees the conversation and water use of the Catawba -- the agreement means that both states are going to implement similar “strategies to deal with droughts and low water flow.”

Merryman said the South Carolina General Assembly will now enact ways to have better oversight over water and transfers from the Catawba -- something North Carolina has been doing for years.

“Water is a resource that is desperately needed in both states,” said Merryman. “And I think both states saw this as a case that needed to be handled carefully and responsibly.”

The biggest effect of last week’s meeting is that the two states will now work more closely on water conservation matters in the future, said Merryman.

Merryman said North Carolina would still be drawing millions of gallons from the Catawba, but that South Carolina would have more input and notifications in future cases.

South Carolina filed the Supreme Court case in 2007 after the North Carolina Environmental Management Commission approved up to 10 million gallons of water a day to be withdrawn from the Catawba River for use in the cities of Concord and Kannapolis in North Carolina.

Gary Faulkenberry with the Lake Wateree Association said the lawsuit is really what brought about the decision.

“Unfortunately, it sometimes takes the threat of a lawsuit to get the two parties to sit down and talk,” said Faulkenberry. “But we are in a much better position now than we were five years ago.”

Faulkenberry agreed with Merryman’s assessment of increased communication between the two states, saying it keeps each attuned with what the other is doing.

“I’m supportive of this agreement … it makes the process to apply for an inter-basin transfer much more rigorous,” said Faulkenberry.

The accord also allows for a re-evaluation in 10 years to gauge water usage and make adjustments.

“This doesn’t force us to be prognosticators and look 10 years into the future,” Faulkenberry said. “And it means we don’t have to roll the dice with the court case, or spend more taxpayer dollars.”


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