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One Glass for Two People

A Case of Water Use Rights in the Eastern United States

Co Authors:

Jeffrey A. Steinmetz
Department of Biology
Francis Marion University

Reed M. Perkins
Department of Environmental Science
Queens University of Charlotte


This case study focuses on the growing issue of water use rights in the southeastern United States. Approximately 1.3 million people in North and South Carolina depend on the Catawba-Wateree River for water and electricity. The river is also important for recreation and real estate development.  To meet growing water demands, elected officials in Concord and Kannapolis, NC, petitioned their state government to approve an inter-basin transfer (IBT) of 25 million gallons of water a day from the Catawba River. Other towns in North Carolina and South Carolina that are part of the Catawba-Wateree watershed fought this request for water transfer. For this exercise, students are divided into teams that take the role of different stakeholders trying to negotiate a settlement to this lawsuit. In the course of the debate, students address fundamental legal, ethical, and environmental questions about water use.

  • Define the following terms: watershed, water transfer, inter-basin transfer.
  • List and describe the different sources of water, including surface water and groundwater.
  • List and describe the major ways that humans use water.
  • Be able to explain the difference between riparian rights and prior appropriation.
  • Be able to articulate a position on whether water should be transferred between basins in the present case and defend that position with specific facts.
Keywords: Water; water rights; water management; water conflicts; freshwater; environmental ethics; South Carolina; North Carolina
Topical Area: Ethics, Legal issues, Regulatory issues, Scientific argumentation
Educational Level: Undergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division
Formats: PDF
Type/Method: Debate, Dilemma/Decision, Discussion, Role-Play, Student Presentations
Language: English
Subject Headings: Natural Resource Management   Environmental Science   Earth Science   Limnology   Hydrology  
Date Posted: 8/31/2011
Date Modified: N/A
Copyright: Copyright held by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Please see our usage guidelines, which outline our policy concerning permissible reproduction of this work.

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