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Securing Water Supplies for Future Growth in North Carolina

Securing adequate water for future growth and development is an essential need of local governments. In order to ensure adequate access to future water supplies, a fundamental step is the development and/or enhancement of a Local Water Supply Plan (“Local Plan”). Local Plans include water use data, population projections, and present and future water supplies. In North Carolina, N.C. Gen. Stat. § 143-355(l) requires all local governments (or large community water systems) to complete this important step and submit them to the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality (“DEQ”) and updated them annually. This allows DEQ to apply a unified approach when allocating North Carolina’s water resources to ensure there is sufficient water to meet the needs of each community.

However, some local governments lack the resources to complete a plan, or may not put enough effort into providing accurate and updated information about future growth plans and development. This becomes an issue when a community initiates a request to transfer large quantities of water from another community to meet their growth projections. Such a request is called an Interbasin Transfer (“IBT”) and is governed by statute under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 143-215.22L. An IBT is designed as a last resort, takes approximately three to five years to complete, and if successful, ends with an IBT Certificate granted by the Environmental Management Commission (“EMC”). DEQ information about ITB certification, included past and present IBT requests, can be found here.

It is the policy of North Carolina that the future water supply needs of the receiving river basin (the community requesting an IBT) are subordinate to the future water supply needs of the source river basin (where the water will be withdrawn). N.C. Gen. Stat. § 143-215.22L(t). In making a determination to grant or deny an IBT request, the EMC considers the Local Plans to determine if there are adequate water resources to meet the needs of all communities involved. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 143-215.22L(k).  Therefore, if the future water supply needs of communities located within a river basin with abundant water resources are not updated in the Local Plan to account for population growth and future growth projections, it will be difficult to ensure that water is allocated efficiently and fairly in accordance with the State’s policy. As North Carolina continues to grow rapidly, securing adequate water supply needs will be more challenging. DEQ can provide technical assistance in developing Local Plans.

For more information about Local Plans and IBTs, contact Hayes Finley at Hayes.finley@smithmoorelaw.com

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