Recommendations for a Surface Water Allocation System in North Carolina: The Upper Tar River Basin Perspective

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North Carolina is a water-rich state, crisscrossed by more than 40,000 miles of rivers and streams and fed by an average of almost 50 inches of rain a year. Competition for the state’s water resources is increasing, however, and recent droughts and lawsuits have highlighted the fact that there is a limit to this wealth. A more proactive and comprehensive approach to managing water withdrawals is needed. One management tool that has received attention at the General Assembly, but has not yet been implemented, is a statewide allocation system for surface water. My research is a prospective policy analysis, which explores the perspective of four groups of water professionals (primarily) within the Upper Tar River basin, in order to predict the implications and consequences of implementing a statewide surface water allocation policy. Data was collected through a series of hour-long, semi-structured, in-person interviews. Informants included managers of municipal water systems in the Upper Tar River basin, water utility professionals from the private sector who work in the Upper Tar River basin, staff from state resource agencies, and environmental policy experts working on water issues in North Carolina. Data analysis, which drew from discourse analysis and grounded theory methods, explored the text of verbatim interview transcripts to identify the key themes in informants’ discourse related to a surface water allocation policy. From these themes, I articulated a list of the fundamental objectives that an allocation program must meet and then developed a set of policy recommendations to guide development of such a program. My analysis indicates that there is support for a statewide surface water allocation system, within the respondent group. In order to realize the potential benefits identified by informants and minimize their concerns, a successful surface water allocation program should (1) provide a fair process for determining allocations, (2) apply equitably to all user groups, (3) incorporate a comprehensive and integrated approach to understanding, managing, and regulating surface water use, (4) provide a broad planning and decision context, and (5) enable users to adequately plan and prepare for future water conditions. This study provides insight to the perspectives of four stakeholder groups in the Upper Tar River basin and could serve as the basis for larger, perhaps quantitative studies. Future research is needed to investigate the transferability of these findings to other river basins in the state and to explore the perspectives of other important stakeholder groups, including agriculture and electric power generation.





Schieffer, Emily (2011). Recommendations for a Surface Water Allocation System in North Carolina: The Upper Tar River Basin Perspective. Master's project, Duke University. Retrieved from

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