U.S. Supreme Court wades into water war

February 2009 Vol. 64 No.2

South Carolina’s request before the Supreme Court would “re-apportion the river’s water and that action could undo the equitable balance achieved in that three-year relicensing negotiation,” Lineberger says.

South Carolina’s Supreme Court suit was sparked by North Carolina permits allowing the city of Charlotte’s water utility to transfer water from one river basin to another. One permit allows a maximum of 33 million gallons of water to flow out of the Catawba and into the Rocky River.

Adding fuel to the fire, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities allows the cities of Concord and Kannapolis to take up to 10 million gallons per day. Union County has permission to transfer 5 million gallons per day and has a request to bump up that number to 13 million.
SC’s suit contends these interbasin water transfers damage South Carolina cities and towns because water is taken out of the Catawba, worsening drought conditions. The river is a closed system, where treated sewage is pumped back into the Catawba to prevent the river from running dry.

And so, as communities in North Carolina grow, so does the concern from South Carolina. The greatest threat to South Carolina’s share of the river comes from Charlotte. It’s the biggest community on the Catawba and the largest provider of water and sewage treatment in the river basin.

With the river’s limited supply poised to become a restricted asset, that also means Charlotte’s ability to grow is at risk.