The Clean Water Management Trust Fund is one of North Carolinas most noble endeavors. Created in 1996, when the state was experiencing a monumental crisis with hog waste and everyone from fishermen to developers was fearful of long-term problems, the fund has spent nearly $1 billion to help local projects aimed at preserving clean water.
Money from the trust allows for the purchase of land, for example, to buffer and ensure the safety of drinking water. Consider Mecklenburg County, where more than $15 million from the trust fund helped to protect Mountain Island Lake, which happens to be the main water source for Charlotte and Gastonia. In addition, money went to restore Little Sugar Creek, which was polluted.
Will Gov.-elect Pat McCrory, who has cast himself as the champion of business and less regulation (some of it presumably related to environmental regulation) be aware of that as his budget-writers go about the business of deciding whether the trust fund is adequately addressed in the budget? Advocates for the fund undoubtedly hope that the former Charlotte mayor will.
Indeed, this does not need to be a partisan issue, even though Republicans did repeal a legal mandate of a $100 million annual appropriation last year, meaning that the fund has to fight for funding every year. (Democrats have raided the fund to balance budgets as well.)
Though some Republicans have derided environmental regulation as inhibiting business and throwing up roadblocks to development that cost jobs, others are more realistic.
Clean water and rivers and lakes that are rescued from states of pollution are business-friendly. Once water resources are fouled by pollution, whether they are drinking water resources or recreational resources, they are gone. The only answer, and its not always an answer, is restoration, which is far more expensive than protecting the waters in the first place.
This is a most important issue in a state such as North Carolina, where tourism is vital to economic survival and where scenic vistas in the mountains and the ocean waters along the coast are assets that help define the state. Moreover, the presence of clean water makes for healthier and more vibrant wildlife habitats. People habitats need clean water, too.
Legislators may not be able to restore full funding, but they should do all they can to provide money for the trust fund to continue to help communities from the coast to the mountains. Without that help, many crucial assets related to North Carolinas economy and economic well-being will be put at an unacceptable risk.