Sustainable Urban Water Use in the Southeast: Research, Outreach, and Training Series


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The drought of 2007-08 had a severe impact on the Southeast. Water supplies reached such low levels that some commercial and residential services were eliminated; other urban services, including fire protection and sanitation, were threatened. A combination of rapid growth and limited opportunities for development of new supplies means that sustaining rapid economic growth in the region is dependent in part on improving efficiency of water use.


Since 1990, population in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia increased by 15 percent to 23.4 million, and U.S. Census Bureau projections anticipate an increase of another 25 percent by 2030. There is a limited opportunity to expand supplies. Most prime reservoir sites have already been developed. For example, 86 percent of current storage capacity in North Carolina was in place by 1965; 96 percent was in place by 1985. From 1910 to 1965, 1.9 acre-feet of reservoir storage was added for each new resident; only 0.19 acre-feet per new resident since 1965.


Because of its long history of relative abundance of supplies and lack of concentrated demand centers, the Southeast has not felt the need to adopt measures to improve efficiency of water use. That era is now gone. These trends indicate that the Southeast needs to prioritize water efficiency for every year and not just during a drought.