We hope that planning includes active participation by all of the area’s water providers, both public and private. We also hope a considerable emphasis on conservation makes its way into the final product.
It will take some soothsaying to answer the questions of how much water residents will need and where it will come from. It starts with the difficult task of predicting where and when and in what numbers newcomers will arrive. It also will take some prognosticating on long-term climate issues, and it will need to take into account what is happening hundreds of miles away, particularly as we seek to understand the availability of water from the Savannah River.
Severe drought in Georgia, North Carolina and others parts of South Carolina have brought into sharp focus the limits on our surface water sources. South Carolina has sued North Carolina for pumping too much water from the Catawba River before it reaches the state line. The lawsuit is before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Sorting out water sources for our region is complicated by the two-state use of the Savannah River and the Upper Floridan aquifer. The authority’s general manager, Dean Moss, has played a pivotal role in the Georgia-South Carolina efforts to sort out use of the Savannah River and the shared Upper Floridan aquifer. That clean, relatively cheap water source is threatened by saltwater intrusion, brought on largely by pumping in the Savannah area.
Some environmentalists are raising concerns about plans to dredge the Savannah River six feet deeper to accommodate larger ships at the Savannah port. They worry about its impact on the Upper Floridan, and they worry about a deeper river channel drawing salt water farther up the river and into areas where drinking water intake pipes are located.
These issues truly are long term. The saltwater intrusion problem is decades old. Hilton Head Island has grappled for almost two decades with the water supply question. Island utilities have gone to deeper underground aquifers and the Savannah River to meet state mandates to reduce pumping from the Upper Floridan.
Ocean water desalination is an expensive solution and one that should be last on any list of options.
It would be much cheaper to reduce our demand for water, and that can start today. Native landscaping that doesn’t require irrigation should be high on everyone’s list. Moss reports that authority customers use about 25 million gallons of water on an average summer day. About 14 million gallons go to southern Beaufort County, with 6 million gallons of that going to irrigation. We have a lot of room for improvement.
Treated wastewater for irrigation should be used more. That resource has long been used for irrigation on area golf courses and in some commercial areas on Hilton Head. Capturing stormwater runoff, as Moss points out, is another potential source to tap. That idea has the added benefit of taking a source of potential pollution and redirecting it so that it is filtered before reaching area waterways.
As more people and businesses move to the Lowcountry and coastal Georgia, it will become increasingly important that we recognize and adjust our own individual water use even as we look for regional answers to our water-supply questions.