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July 04, 2006

Water rationing

North Carolina’s growth, combined with many droughts in areas of our state during the past couple of years, has meant water shortages in many communities. Economist Mike Walden considers ways these shortages can be dealt with.

"Over the long run, what that motivates many communities to do is increase their supply of water," says Dr. Walden, a specialist with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service. "For example, Wake County is planning two additional reservoirs over the next 20 or 25 years. But those are very long run propositions.

"In the short run when you do have a drought and you have growing water demand there are really only two things you can do. You can have the government come in and set rules on how much water people can use. For example, we have seen some governments do that in terms of you can only water outside on certain days.

"We often don’t see the government say we are going to restrict you to this number of gallons, but they do try to monitor that in terms of restricting particularly outdoor use. That’s one approach.

"Another approach," adds Walden, "is to simply charge higher prices, maybe not for a baseline amount of water usage but for usage above a certain level. The nice thing about that is it doesn’t get the government involved in policing water usage, and also it allows people to make individual choices.

"If, for example, using an extra 10 gallons of water is worth a significant amount to you, you can go ahead and pay the price to do that.

"So we have these two different approaches that governments may find to use when we do have water shortages," he concludes.

Posted by deeshore at July 4, 2006 08:00 AM