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For immediate release Dec. 15, 2004
Contact: Elaine Matthews, (919) 250-4314

Rural Center study finds North Carolina facing $15 billion in water & sewer needs by 2030

RALEIGH - The N.C. Rural Economic Development Center today released initial findings of a yearlong water resource study that reveals infrastructure needs in North Carolina will reach $7 billion in just five years and $15 billion by 2030. More than 100 water resource leaders and professionals from around the state attended a briefing in Raleigh today to hear the findings.

The assessment of the state's public water, sewer and storm water infrastructure was conducted as part of the center's Water 2030 Initiative, a comprehensive water resource study launched in March to arm state leaders with information essential to spurring job growth, protecting the environment and preserving quality of life in North Carolina through 2030. Current data indicate that one in four public water systems in the state will be nearly tapped out within five years.

"There are literally hundreds of communities across North Carolina that have substantial infrastructure needs and do not have the tax base to pay for these expensive water and sewer projects," said Rural Center President Billy Ray Hall. "It's a very real concern, because without clean water you simply can't have economic development and job creation, and you certainly can't have a good quality of life."

Hall called news of the state's capital needs 'a staggering wake-up call' that will require decisive action through short- and long-term planning on the part of state and local leadership. The findings come at a precarious time, both for the state economy which is transitioning away from its declining manufacturing base, and for rural communities that depend on grants from the Clean Water Bonds approved by voters in 1998, Hall said. The bonds, which will be fully expended in February 2005, help rural and economically distressed communities pay for the planning, building and repair of water and wastewater systems.

The Water 2030 Initiative includes three primary components:

* An update of the water and sewer database completed by the Rural Center in 1998;

* The creation of a state water supply and demand assessment (known as a water budget), with projections for 2005 through 2030; and

* An aggressive public education and outreach effort to build the understanding of and appreciation for water resources among all the citizens of the state.

"This is the most comprehensive study of water resources ever conducted by the State of North Carolina and probably of any state on the eastern seaboard," said project director Jean Crews-Klein, the center's vice-president for business and natural resource development. "This study will likely be the model for other states that, like North Carolina, are faced with serious water resource challenges and need to obtain the data necessary to inform state leaders and initiate new public policies."

Crews-Klein said that with the 100-county assessment of water and sewer systems completed, the next deliverable will be county-level infrastructure data in early 2005. Later in the year, the center will conduct extensive public education and outreach and hold a statewide water resources conference to release a final report of findings.

The center conducted the state's first inventory of public water and sewer facilities in 1996, revealing $11.3 billion in water infrastructure needs statewide. That study was the basis for the 1998 Clean Water Bond Act. At the direction of the N.C. General Assembly, the center has invested $240 million in water and wastewater projects in more than 300 rural communities to date as part of the bond program.

The total cost of the Water 2030 Initiative is estimated at more than $2 million. To date, the Rural Center has received two grants from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), one for

$1 million and the second for $200,000; a $500,000 grant from the N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund; and a $200,000 appropriation by the N.C. General Assembly. In addition, the center is contributing $300,000 of its own funds to the effort. The center has contracted with engineering firms Hobbs Upchurch & Associates, P.A., and McGill Associates, P.A. to conduct the project's field work, and with AMEC Earth and Environmental for water resource services.

To learn more about the Rural Center's WATER 2030 Initiative, contact project director Jean Crews-Klein at (919) 250-4314.

The N.C. Rural Economic Development Center is a private, non-profit organization whose mission is to develop sound economic strategies that improve the quality of life in rural North Carolina, with a special focus on individuals with low to moderate incomes and communities with limited resources. The center operates a multi-faceted program that includes conducting research into rural issues; testing promising rural development strategies; advocating for policy and program innovations; and building the productive capacity of rural leaders, entrepreneurs and community organizations.

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