Meeting our future water needs

North Carolina’s expected growth over the next several decades will create many challenges, including increased water usage. NC State University economist Mike Walden discusses options for dealing with the increased need.

“Between 2010 and 2050, North Carolina is expected to add 3.8 million people. Now, if those folks consume water at the same rate as our existing population, that will mean we will need 5.6 billion more gallons of water a day in order to satisfy the need – and that’s a big, big jump.

“And so I think we need to start thinking now about how we are going to do that. And always in economics, you can look at two sides of it – supply or demand.

“On the supply side of it, what we can do is build more reservoirs. The problem is cost. Reservoirs are very, very costly to construct. I estimate that if we build reservoirs necessary to meet that increased capacity, it will cost us in today’s dollars $60 billion.

“The other way we can do it is on demand. And we can, number one, try to increase the efficiency of water use. And, for example, what this probably means at some time is using what’s called gray water — that is, using water people use in their home, recycle it and reuse it — and secondly probably to introduce something called tiered-pricing. This is actually used by half the residents of North Carolina, and this is where you pay more per gallon as you use more gallons. So it’s a big incentive to cut back on your consumption.

“My guess is we will need all three approaches.”