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Guest column – Time to flush old mindset

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By Alan Briggs

Water is, or will be, North Carolina’s oil in the 21st century: All economic activity and growth in the coming decades for our state will be determined by the availability, reliability and affordability of clean water sources.

Agriculture, cities and industry will compete with personal consumption for this fundamental resource.

These changes seriously challenge our current mindset that accepts using clean water to flush hog barns, irrigate yards and golf courses, and wash cars, houses and driveways.

Statewide, we must do more to protect this resource and acknowledge that we face the same challenges and competition for water as the rest of the world.

Our aquifers in the Cape Fear River basin are dropping 8 to 10 feet per year.

Virginia is diverting water from the Roanoke River for its own use.

And long before the recent drought, cities such as Asheville, Concord, Greensboro, Cary and Chapel Hill regularly imposed water usage restrictions.

The answer to our decreasing water supplies will not be through increasing availability, but through efficiency.

Did you know that one flush of a standard U.S. toilet uses more water than most individuals in the world use for all their needs in a day, or that new units flush 1.6 gallons as opposed to the old 5 to 7 gallons? European separator toilets separate liquids for fertilizer and solids for composting, further eliminating the massive consumption of water and expense of municipal waste treatment systems.

Washing clothes in standard horizontal axis machines consumes 23 percent of indoor water use.

Vertical axis machines, common overseas and in laundromats here, use 40 to 75 percent less water, clean more thoroughly and are easier on clothes — no agitating, no tangling.

Farmers in Texas are using wired gypsum cubes embedded in the root zone and attached to meters that indicate soil moisture levels. This allows more even watering, more efficient watering schedules and reduces runoff.

North Carolina can position itself to use our relative abundance of water to ensure a viable economic future by acknowledging water’s vital role, planning for future demands and developing state policies on sustainable water usage.

North Carolina will prosper and grow if we adopt state water-usage policies whose goal is similar to the national water policy of South Africa: “Some, for all, forever.”


Alan Briggs is president of Save Our State, a statewide nonprofit in Raleigh, N.C., that promotes sustainable economic growth and natural resource conservation.

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