Integrated Water Management in the Burgeoning Triangle Region

Today’s guest blogger, Jen Schmitz, recently joined the TJCOG team as a Principal Planner with our Water Resources program, focusing on water quality, water supply, and long-term regional water availability projects. She is excited to provide technical assistance and support to our local governments on collaborative water resource management and planning. We are happy to have her onboard!

North Carolina is unique in many ways, not least of which is our intricate relationship with local hydrology. From the fresh mountain streams, to the abundance of coastal inlets, to the humid and rainy summer months, our state seems to be rich in water resources. However, ensuring sufficient water supply and determining long-standing water provisions have quickly become some of the most pressing issues affecting our area. Many of our most essential drinking water supplies, particularly in the Triangle region, are derived from man-made sources that have been established over the years to respond to rapid population growth and subsequent demand for fresh, clean water.

Ensuring sufficient water supply and determining long-standing water provisions have quickly become some of the most pressing issues affecting our area.

A steady increase in water consumption threatens to outstrip our natural water quantity and delivery capabilities over time, prompting construction of additional reservoirs and infrastructure. This trend will certainly continue; preliminary estimates expect projected future water demand to nearly triple by 2060 due to explosive population increases in the Triangle. Demand will surpass available water supply long before then without intervention. Water scarcity is fresh on the minds of many North Carolinians following the two record historic droughts in recent years. Additional disasters such as these will only amplify the stress on current water stocks, shortening or severing the already fragile anticipated supply timeline.

Extremely innovative and proactive steps are being taken to increase the resiliency of water access in our region, including the newly approved Round 4 Jordan Lake allocations and associated watershed-level planning. A vital component of these plans is a series of inter-and intra-jurisdictional water system interconnections that was developed to prepare for and respond to water shortage conditions and emergency situations. The plans aim for long-term reliability through water supply sharing between municipalities. Due to these incredible collaborative efforts, several communities in the Triangle can rest a little easier knowing they have secured additional drinking water supply for a number of years. However, surging population growth comes with a myriad of other stressors on water quality and quantity that impact water resources on a far larger scale.

Real estate and commercial development, land clearing and land use changes, agricultural inputs, and wastewater and stormwater runoff are all directly related to increases in population, and all can have significant negative impacts on water resources that may be felt throughout the greater region. From the viewpoint of water, everyone is downstream of someone else! Getting all groups at the table to build and foster new and existing cooperative efforts, break down jurisdictional silos, and adopt a “one water” mentality is crucial for ensuring a secure and sustainable water supply across district and watershed lines. Rain, waterways, and floods recognize no regulatory boundaries, so our partnerships must extend across those same lines to manage water in an integrated way. These are complex issues, so why not put our heads together to figure out solutions?

As our Triangle region continues on its path of rapid growth, integrated water resources management is a defining factor in the ability to continue being a top destination to live, work, and thrive. TJCOG has been involved in many  innovative water resources projects over the years  that have brought together our member governments. As we face new water management challenges in our region, we are poised to implement further collaborative solutions across entities. I employ you as TJCOG members, Triangle J residents, and benefactors of our regional water system to think hard about the ways we can work together to ensure clean water is available now and into the future. I look forward to hearing your ideas, and working side-by-side to ensure clean water for all in the Triangle J region!

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