The rules are about to change, and change is good.
The era of free water for energy companies, farmers, golf courses and many other industries and businesses may soon come to an end.
North Carolina lawmakers are considering a sweeping new system of water regulations that would require pricey permits for big users while establishing supply budgets for communities in the states 17 river basins.
The proposed Water Resource Policy Act of 2009 has been prompted by a pair of epic droughts from 1998 to 2002 and from 2005 to 2008 that strained the states supply.
Planners expect the state population to grow to 12 million in 2030 from the 8.5 million recorded in 2004. But preventive measures against future shortages are nearly impossible because North Carolina regulators lack critical data.
In short, no one knows the true size of the states water supply today, much less what will be available tomorrow.