What falls freely from the sky, rumbles, swooshes, rolls, trickles across the planet; seeps into the earth beneath our feet yet is more valuable than “Texas T,” that foul smelling icky crude that companies spend billions to produce, only to sell for mega-billions?
If you walked outside in Western North Carolina this past weekend, you were standing in the middle of it — fresh water.
Now this is not something new on the radar. A Bloomberg News report back in 2006 noted, “The Bloomberg World Water Index of 11 utilities returned 35 percent annually since 2003, compared with 29 percent for oil and gas stocks and 10 percent for the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index … The United Nations estimates that by 2050 more than 2 billion people in 48 countries will be short of water.”
And even 10 years before that report some progressive, forward thinking (dare we say liberal?) elected officials in the Tar Heel State, listening to their constituents, created the Clean Water Management Trust Fund. In 1996 the North Carolina General Assembly created the Clean Water Management Trust Fund (CWMTF) with the mission, “… to clean up pollution in the State’s surface waters and to protect and conserve those waters that are not yet polluted.”
These forward-looking public servants were so committed to the concept and scope of the CWMTF that they created a statute — GS 20-81.12, to insure its continued funding. The appropriations began with a little over $47 million in 96-97, growing to $100 million in 05-06 where it remained until economic hardships began to manifest in 2008. Funding began to slowly diminish, dropping to $84 million in 08-09. And then the Republican-controlled General Assembly not only repealed the statute guaranteeing funding for CWMTF but cut appropriations by nearly 90 percent beginning fiscal year 2011.
Newly elected Gov. Pat McCrory and the current General Assembly are continuing the trend by reducing the CWMTF appropriations (which are now no longer guaranteed) to around $6.8 million a year.
All of North Carolina’s 100 counties have benefited from CWMTF grants. Since it’s inception in 1996, CWMTF has provided more than $500 million to purchase lands protecting fresh water sources in the state; more than $251 million to repair and enhance sewer lines; and more than $96 million in restoration projects. Here in Western North Carolina, the list is obvious: Waynesville watershed; Bryson City watershed; Murphy watershed; Needmore; Rough Creek watershed and the list just goes on and on.
Before McCrory took office as governor, he served as mayor of Charlotte. Charlotte and Mecklenburg County received more than $17 million dollars in assistance from CWMTF for projects like Mountain Island Lake and Little Sugar Creek while McCrory was mayor. Under his budget it would take more than three years of continuous funding (with no other bids considered) by CWMTF to match the essential work it did in Mecklenburg County.
And of course the governor of the party of “smaller government” has no influence over a General Assembly that has already voted to wrest control of Asheville area’s water from Asheville and Asheville voters to create a Metropolitan Sewer District whose members will be politically appointed. Are other local water districts on notice?