Sustainable Growth Requires Leadership and Engagement

February 06, 2024 | Written by: Campbell Wheby

the crowd at the TLC River event at Hugger Mugger Brewing

As we all know, water is the essential ingredient of life; without it, life as we know it on planet Earth would not exist. We learned as children that more than 60 percent of the human body is made up of water, and many of the plants we consume for nutrition and sustenance contain more than 90 percent water. Water is quite literally “the stuff of life.” Although these facts are indisputable and our very existence depends upon them, most of us don’t walk around every day thinking about where our drinking water comes from and how our daily activities affect both the quality and quantity of water available to us.

Last week, in a celebration hosted by the Triangle Land Conservancy (TLC), SAGA staff and stakeholders joined local property owners and other community members in an educational and thought-provoking look at the waters that sustain us and our local economy: the Deep and Rocky Rivers.

The Deep River flows southeast from its headwaters near Greensboro and converges with the Rocky River along much of the boundary between Lee and Chatham County before joining the Haw River a bit further east to form the mighty Cape Fear. These rivers are not only important to Lee County; the waters they collect and cleanse and convey across NC’s central and southeastern Coastal Plain are critically important to a significant percentage of North Carolina’s human population, not to mention the large and biodiverse array of wild native plants and animals that depend upon them for survival as well.

The Cape Fear River basin is the state’s largest river basin, covering more than 9100 square miles, draining parts of 25 counties and more than 100 municipalities, including the cities of Greensboro, High Point, Sanford, Fayetteville and Wilmington. From an economic impact standpoint, the waters of the Cape Fear have long been a catalyst for agriculture and food production, as well as a source of transportation, power, process water and wastewater discharge for a variety of traditional manufacturing industries.

In recent years, the Carolina Core and Research Triangle Region have become global centers of advanced manufacturing, with four of North Carolina’s advanced manufacturing “Megasites” sited in the Cape Fear basin. Within the past three years alone, these sites have accounted for more than $20 billion in new capital investment and many thousands of new well-paid jobs by companies like Toyota, Wolfspeed, VinFast and Boom Supersonic, none of which would be possible without the life-giving and industry-sustaining waters of the Deep and the Rocky and the Cape Fear. While this wave of positive economic news has the potential to benefit all the residents of our region, experience teaches us that poorly managed development can have detrimental impacts on the very features of a community that currently make it such an attractive place to live and work and raise a family.

The good news from last week’s TLC celebration of the Deep and Rocky Rivers is that our local water source is still in reasonably good shape, and meaningful conservation efforts are already underway in some of its most vulnerable areas. SAGA’s leaders and stakeholders have an excellent opportunity to build on these efforts and shape our future development in a positive and sustainable way. With robust stakeholder engagement, responsive political leadership, and effective community development and planning strategies, we can further protect our abundant, high quality water resources and manage them in a way that conserves and supports local farms and working lands, protects our rich and diverse natural habitats, and offers us and our children enduring access to meaningful connections with nature.

Jimmy Randolph, CEO