Sometimes what at first seems utterly ridiculous turns out to be a foreshadowing. It’s happening with water use in this country, and we expect in the not-too-distant future this resource won’t be taken for granted as it is today.
The Jackson County Water Study Task Force is going to disband after studying the county’s troubling water situation and making some common sense recommendations. Those ideas — which are not suggestions for regulations since the task force has no authority — include installing water saving devices in homes, modifying ordinances to prevent stormwater runoff, and reusing wastewater for irrigation, to name a few.
Here’s what’s happening in Jackson County and elsewhere in the mountains. It seems many wells are going dry with increasing frequency in this ongoing drought. The task force members estimate that as many as 25 percent of all new wells are replacement water supplies. The wells on these properties have simply stopped producing or have been so depleted they are sending up just a trickle of water.
Americans — especially in the East and especially in the mountains — have never worried much about our water. But as more homes are built in rural areas, meaning more well pumps sucking up groundwater, the plethora of creeks and springs we see around us does not translate into a similar plethora of water in the underground aquifers. So while more and more people use water from the same aquifers, runoff from solid surfaces means less and less of the rain goes into the ground to recharge aquifers. More water use, less recharging of aquifers, and a drought all add up to a big problem.
It’s almost laughable when one looks at how much water Americans consume. According to the American Water Works Association, the average person uses 69 gallons of water a day. Showers, toilets and washing machines account for about 68 percent of that amount. The Jackson County Water Task Force found that, on average, residents hooked up to the Tuckasegee Water and Sewer Association use 26 percent more than the average U.S. family.
At some point all this unregulated water use will change. Those who don’t believe that need only remember the stories of travelers — and this was into the late 1990s — returning from Europe or Third World countries who would come back laughing about how everyone overseas drank water out of bottles. “They’ll never be able sell water in the U.S.,” was the common refrain.
As it turns out, we will buy water from bottles, and lots of it. And towns with plentiful water supplies like Waynesville are now asking residents to voluntarily reduce usage. A bill discussed in last year’s General Assembly would have metered private wells to determine how much water is being used in households, presumably to consider affixing a tax or usage fee of some kind to those who use too much.
The only responsible option is to take advantage of available methods and reduce water use. Ask local leaders if they have plans for this looming problem. It’s much smarter to wean ourselves voluntarily rather than digging a deeper hole that will — sooner than later — lead to draconian government regulations.