State eyes consolidation of aging rural water and sewer systems

Mar 27, 2019

Spending $800 million for water and sewer improvements doesn’t get the same attention as the new schools Gov. Roy Cooper includes in a proposed $3.9 billion bond issue expected to go before voters in November 2020.

But perhaps it should.

According to a 2017 water infrastructure report, in the next 20 years, North Carolina is projected to need between $17 billion and $26 billion to upgrade or replace aging water and sewer systems. The problems are particularly acute in rural towns and cities throughout the state, where the loss of population and industry have caused some local government-owned utilities to operate at a deficit.

For many rural communities, lack of revenue means taking a bubble-gum and baling-wire approach to leaking pipes and failing equipment, fixing holes when they spring up but deferring seriously needed major repairs or replacements.

In the long run, that will cost the utilities even more money, but there is little they can do without an infusion of cash, said Kim Colson, director of the Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Water Infrastructure.

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