Falls Lake and the Neuse River provide drinking water to about 500,000 people in six counties. With development soaring near lakes, officials want to preserve land near nine drinking water reservoirs around the Triangle.
However, officials said buying land for the Upper Neuse Clean Water Initiative before developers do could be a pricey proposition, considering many new homes in the targeted area carry $1 million price tags.
"We are talking about another bond that will be in the neighborhood of $50 million next year -- just the escalating costs will require that," said Tony Gurley, chirman of the Wake County Board of Commissioners.
Raleigh will pitch in $1.5 million over a three-year period to help develop the plan.
"(This) reminds me in many ways of something I learned in chemistry class years ago," Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker said. "We had a very good teacher, and one of her sayings was the trouble you don't get into is the trouble you don't have to get out of."
Supporters of the plan said say the cost is worth it.
Studies show area water quality is deteriorating because of development, which is projected to grow 50 percent within 20 years. Also, protecting undeveloped land is usually cheaper than building new water treatment plants, supporters said.
"The time is now. If we don't start preserving land now, it's going to be gone because once it's gone, you can't get it back," said Becky Heron, vice chairwoman of the Durham County Board of Commissioners.