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Water Justice in an Era of Climate Change

photo (19)by Jennifer Weaver, Water and Energy Justice Researcher, Durham Office
Click here for a link to the full report

All people have a right to clean, affordable water, but climate change, which we are already experiencing, will only add further big challenges to assuring that right.

There are major uncertainties about precisely when and where climate change-related weather events – massive hurricanes, bigger, wetter inland storms, severe drought, sea level rise and saltwater intrusion – will strike. That uncertainty provides all the more reason for local governments to plan their responses and everyday policies that ensure every resident, especially the most vulnerable, maintains access to clean water at reasonable cost.

Princeville Hurricane Floyd

Princeville, NC was mostly underwater when Hurricane Floyd hit in 1999.

Flooding, droughts, population growth and wasteful uses all contribute to water scarcity, which increases rates, putting access to water out of reach for many users. Local water systems also are stressed by the need for maintenance and upgrades, which also increases rates. In addition, North Carolina’s continued reliance on coal and nuclear energy – two extremely water-intensive means of energy production – means power plants are sucking up and evaporating large volumes. Agricultural practices that are both water-intensive and have no water permitting system leave agribusiness little incentive to conserve. Similarly, many local water suppliers charge flat fees or “decreasing block rates” (a discount for larger volume users), which leaves users with little incentive to conserve.

Several steps must be taken to commit our state to water justice:

  • State and local government must undertake a public education effort to make conservation a social norm, rather than something only done under emergency conditions.
  • Local water systems must convert to increasing block rate structures (higher charges for larger volume users) and be forward-thinking with planning for infrastructure upgrades.
  • The state must implement a permitting system for water withdrawals.
  • State and local governments must support efforts to convert to less water-intensive, renewable energy sources.
  • State and local governments must acknowledge and prepare for the reality of sea level rise, rather than “kicking the can down the road.”

Water justice in the era of climate disruption means that policies must be implemented at the state and local level in order to protect and prepare for these new environmental conditions and mitigate the effects of extreme weather for vulnerable populations, wherever they exist. Many of the necessary infrastructure needs and policy changes are likely to be costly, so local governments must ensure that services remain affordable to financially strapped residents in addition to making sure appropriate infrastructure reaches them.

For the full report, click here.

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