Local News

Growth Squeezing Cape Fear River Basin

Posted October 1, 2007 5:30 p.m. EDT
Updated October 1, 2007 6:44 p.m. EDT

— As the ongoing drought and population growth combine to wring gallon after gallon from the Cape Fear River, officials gathered Monday to discuss the river basin's future.

The Cape Fer River basin is the largest in North Carolina, stretching from Rockingham County to the state's southeastern beaches. About 2.5 million people are projected to live in the basin by 2010, and the river and its tributaries provide drinking water to Fayetteville, Cary and other area cities.

“Population growth is expected to really explode,” North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources spokeswoman Jamie Kritzer said. “The idea here is to kind of be out front, to be proactive.”

Officials from cities throughout the basin discussed water use plans Monday, with most saying they plan to increase withdrawals from the river system to meet growing demand.

Fayetteville, for example, plans to draw more from the river as thousands of newcomers move to the area because of changes at Fort Bragg. Smithfield Packing in Bladen County wants to build a water treatment plant that would pump 35 million gallons a day out of the river, while Wilmington wants to boost the capacity at its plant from 27 million gallons a day to 44 million gallons.

“We can see what the impacts of these projected larger water withdrawals would be before they happen, before they’re improved and before the investments are made,” said John Morris, director of the state Division of Water Resources.

State water officials said the basin should have enough water to accommodate the increased use if governments and businesses work together and practice conservation.

The Cape Fear River has been flowing at about half of its normal volume recently because of the drought. State officials said the basin could handle increased demand, even in extreme dry spells, with good management.

“The river can handle it, based on the projections that we’ve done for the next 50 years, as long as all the water users use good management, good judgment and keep their local water-use plans up to date,” Kritzer said.