Section 3 continued: Water, water, everywhere, but who will regulate?

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There are a couple of ways that water use is currently tracked in North Carolina, helping to document water systems and supplies. State law requires the owners of non-agricultural facilities that withdraw at least 100,000 gallons of water to register those withdrawals. Agricultural facilities must register at 1 million gallons.

Community water systems, such as units of local government that supply water to the public, are required by general statute to submit a local water supply plan. These plans describe the water sources of a system, the number of connections, the number of people being served, and projections of these things for the future.

If you’re interested in seeing any of these plans, or seeing the records of water withdrawals, you can do that at ncwater.org.

The information from these plans was what DENR used to estimate water use and future needs for their draft report. DENR also used data from the Source Water Assessment Program, the Water Withdrawal and Transfer Registration Program and the Local Water Supply Planning Program, all administered by the Division of Water resources.

In addition to this household and small system water use, at least 141 agricultural operations each withdrew at least 10,000 gallons or more of water on at least one day during 2010. This data is also included in a nice little chart in the report. According to the report, these combined operations could withdraw 90 million gallons per day from unspecified locations within these counties. And this is just for the Sanford and Durham sub-basins.

The report points out that many agricultural operations only withdraw water when there has been inadequate rainfall. But then it goes on to state that the lack of information regarding these withdrawals, as well as other unregistered withdrawals, makes it hard to predict future needs and identify what could result in water conflicts among users.

And aside from the aforementioned regulations, there are really not rules in place to regulate water withdrawal. North Carolina does not require a water withdrawal permit for surface or groundwater, and may be one of the only states without a statewide permitting requirement. Most states that are already producing oil and gas have specific legislations in place.

And it’s unclear who would even regulate that water withdrawal in North Carolina. The state’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources currently only reviews the impact of water withdrawal if that withdrawal is associated with infrastructure or in-stream activities, triggering a broader permit review. The State Environmental Policy Act handles all withdrawals that require an environmental assessment, but only applies to projects using public funding or land. Commercial natural gas production falls outside the scope of both of these regulatory factions.

The rest of this section reads like more loopholes and what-ifs regarding water withdrawal and permitting. It also goes on to point out that while many areas in the Triassic Basin have enough surface water supplies to support drilling, many other areas do not. And due to the unreliability of ground water supplies, ground water is an even less reliable source of water.

Under current state law, a new well used to supply water for drilling operations would only be required to meet well construction standards, and not track its water use, since it would be treated as a private water supply. This means there would be no review of the impact of that water well on other public or private water supply wells, groundwater levels or stream flow.

As DENR itself states, “In short, is it unclear that DENR has sufficient authority to limit or manage the timing of water withdrawals in connection with hydraulic fracturing.” And this could be detrimental to aquatic ecosystems, surface and groundwater levels, and drinking water supplies.

Tune in tomorrow to see what else we’re unsure of.

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