Midtown Raleigh News

Raleigh: Feds should do more for water systems

Raleigh has joined dozens of U.S. cities in calling for the federal government to boost spending on public water systems.

The nation’s public water utilities face a $23 billion annual investment gap, according to an open letter to President Obama and lawmakers signed by John Carman, Raleigh’s public utilities director, and local officials from around the country.

The City Council unanimously authorized Carman to sign the letter, part of a campaign sponsored by Corporate Accountability International to protect and bolster support for public water systems.

Thirty-five years ago, the federal government covered 78 percent of water system funding. Today, that figure is 3 percent, the letter states, adding that the erosion of support must be reversed.

“Water is the foundation for economic development and prosperity for everyone in society,” Carman wrote when joining the campaign. “It doesn’t make sense to neglect it.”

Raleigh has faced challenges in managing its water supply amid rapid growth. Over the next generation, the city must come up with billions of dollars to replace aging water pipes.

The economic slowdown added a new dimension. With less growth and fewer new customers, cities are having to adjust their revenue projections. Just last week, the town of Zebulon got a three-year extension to pay back its water debt to the city. Zebulon is among the merger communities that buy water from Raleigh.

There’s also a newer challenge: Calls to conserve water succeeded in reducing consumption, but in doing so, made it harder for the city to collect sufficient water revenues to maintain its system.

Raleigh moved to a tiered water rate system in 2010 that rewards customers for lower consumption and charges more per gallon to heavy users.

Water scarcity affects every continent and more than 40 percent of the world’s population, according to Corporate Accountability International, a Boston-based grassroots corporate watchdog organization.

Most Wake County residents get water from Falls Lake and Jordan Lake, man-made reservoirs that need rainfall to maintain adequate lake levels.

Founded in the 1970s, Corporate Accountability International challenges corporate abuses that endanger public health, democratic institutions and the environment. Its targets have included General Electric, Nestle and Philip Morris.

A recent campaign urged the fast food industry to take steps to combat obesity and diet-related disease.

By 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world’s population could be living under water-stressed conditions, the group says.