Water 2030 Overview


The purpose of Water 2030 was to determine North Carolina’s water resource needs for the next 25 years and provide sound information on which to make policy decisions. The N.C. Rural Economic Development Center launched the $2.5 million effort in March 2004 with state and national partners.



In the coming years, North Carolinians will be called upon to make unprecedented decisions about water resources. Although the state has long been considered water rich, indications abound that the resource can no longer be taken for granted. In the coastal plain, for example, dwindling aquifers are forcing groundwater users in several counties to reduce withdrawals. In the western Piedmont, population growth is outpacing the flow of the region's rivers. All told, one-quarter of the state's public water systems expect to approach the limit of their water supply by 2010. That prospect appeared near at hand in 2002, when a four-year drought left several communities on the brink of running out of water and 54 counties were declared agricultural disaster areas.


As water use increases, so do challenges to the supply of fresh water. Excessive nutrients and other pollutants threaten surface and groundwater systems while development overloads stormwater collection systems and destroys wetlands that once served as natural filters.


North Carolina's continued prosperity depends on protecting its water resources in ways that balance many competing demands, including:

  • A growing population. North Carolina’s population — now 8.5 million — is expected to exceed 12 million by the year 2030.
  • Natural ecosystems and industries that depend on natural resources. North Carolina's seafood industry alone is valued at $100 million, and recreation and ecotourism industries are growing.
  • New industries. Many of the state's emerging industries, such as pharmaceuticals and biotechnology, are heavily dependent on clean water.


The initiative

The Water 2030 Initiative built on previous work by federal and state agencies, local governments, university researchers and nonprofit organizations. In 1972 and ‘73, for example, Congress passed groundbreaking legislation that led to cleaner rivers, lakes and streams; federal aid for construction of municipal wastewater treatment plants; and safety standards for drinking water. The North Carolina General Assembly made its own clean water history in 1989, becoming the first (and so far only) state in the nation to mandate the creation of state and local water supply plans. That same year, the legislature also passed a law requiring the creation of minimum statewide standards for watershed protection. In the next decade, North Carolina went on to establish the Clean Water Management Trust Fund to finance projects that address water pollution; to launch an environmental protection planning process for the state's 17 major river basins; and to adopt a wetlands restoration program to improve water quality in those basins.


The Rural Center's earlier work also forms part of this background. Initial studies led to the creation of grants programs to help low-income communities finance water and sewer construction. Then in 1998, the center released the results of a three-year investigation that revealed $11.3 billion in needed water and sewer system improvements statewide. This was based on an in-depth assessment of 659 water and sewer systems in 75 predominantly rural counties and projections for the remaining 25 counties. Data on the water and sewer systems were then incorporated into the database of the state Center for Geographic Information and Analysis, creating a visual, interactive tool for policy makers and economic development officials. The center’s investigation gave impetus to the passage of the North Carolina Clean Water Bond Act of 1998, which provided $800 million for local water and sewer projects.


The Water 2030 Initiative was designed to assist North Carolinians in making the next set of critical decisions about water resource. It included:


Data collection. Water 2030 updated and expanded on the 1998 findings, covering all 100 counties and studying stormwater systems and flood hazards in addition to water and sewer infrastructure.


Water supply and demand projections. As a further measure, the initiative analyzed water supply and demand through the year 2030. Calculations of the available supply included precipitation, dependable yield from aquifers, water reservoirs and elevated storage. Analysis of the demand for water ranged from evaporation and human use to runoff, pollution and contamination.


Analysis of available funding. An analysis of the 1998 Clean Water Bonds revealed where and how the money was spent and its impact. The center also charted annual funding for water and sewer projects statewide from all sources for the years 1995 through 2005.


Public education and outreach. Throughout the Water 2030 process, the Rural Center sought to inform policymakers and citizens about the state's water resources and infrastructure, helping them become better prepared for participation in public policy discussions. These efforts included both statewide and regional briefings, held in cooperation with the directors of the state's 17 Councils of Government.


Advocacy. Based on the findings of the Water 2030 Initiative, the Rural Center made seven key recommendations for action to ensure that North Carolinians, in every area of the state, will have access to ample supplies of clean water well into the future.


Funding and partners

A wide range of partners and collaborators joined the Rural Center to make the Water 2030 Initiative possible. State and local agencies provided more than $2.5 million in funding. Directors of North Carolina's 11 regional Councils of Government played a critical role as liaisons with local government and as conveners of informational meetings. Three consulting engineering companies performed the technical work. An advisory committee representing business, agriculture, economic development, environmental protection, and national, state, and local governments provided oversight. A separate technical committee provided advice on water resources, law, geographic information systems, and government operations. Learn more.