Local Politics

Easley Outlines Drought Agenda for Lawmakers

Posted March 11, 2008

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— Gov. Mike Easley on Tuesday unveiled a three-part legislative package to modernize North Carolina's public water systems, mandate water conservation and efficiency and upgrade the response to water emergencies.

"We want to make North Carolina drought-proof," Easley said at a morning news conference.

State funding would be available for local water systems to build connections to other systems, to upgrade meters for better monitoring of water use, to build water recycling facilities and to carry out leak-prevention programs, said Bill Ross, secretary of the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

"We really have a 19th-century water system in place in the 21st century," Easley said. "We have to make changes."

Ross said businesses that use at least 100,000 gallons a day are supposed to register with DENR, but many don't. Penalties need to be enacted for noncompliance, he said.

The statewide reporting system used by local water systems and the statewide mapping system also need to be upgraded for better tracking of consumption, Ross said.

"We need to do a better job tracking water use," he said. "Unless we identify how much water is being used, we cannot take the steps we need to take to manage our supply."

To boost conservation, state law would need to be changed to prohibit discounted water rates for heavy water use and to encourage tiered rates for business and residential customers, Ross said.

"People who want to use more water should pay more to use it," he said.

Building codes should be revised to require water-saving devices both indoors and outdoors and to encourage the use of recycled water, often called "gray water," for irrigation, Ross said.

"If it's clean enough to bathe your child or wash the dishes, it should be OK to water your flowers," he said.

Dan Tingen, a Triangle developer who chairs the state Building Codes Council, said he would be open to adjusting the codes for more water conservation.

"This council has proven we will look at proposals that benefit water conservation," Tingen said. "Cost is always a consideration, but I think home builders realize, if municipalities don't have the water to service the homes they build, they're out of business anyway. So, we're going to be a team player when it comes to water conservation."

Lawmakers also will be asked to expand the governor's emergency powers to mandate water conservation measures at the local level, said Bryan Beatty, the secretary of the state Department of Crime Control and Public Safety. The measures could be required of any local system – including private wells within the system's market – experiencing extreme or exceptional drought conditions, he said.

"We're going to have to be able to ... put in restrictions at the local level when we see they're in trouble," Easley said. "You don't want to wait until you're out of water."

A sales-tax holiday for purchasing water-saving devices like low-flow faucets and state tax incentives for efficiency efforts also could help with the conservation effort, Beatty said.

Ross said funding also would be requested to form an Office of Water Conservation and Efficiency within DENR to coordinate drought-response efforts.

Beatty unveiled a new Web site, SaveWaterNC.org, that features tips for businesses and homes to urge continued water conservation.

Despite recent rains that have replenished many reservoirs across the state and eased the crisis, Easley emphasized the need for continued water conservation.

The state needs an average of 24 to 30 inches of rain in the coming months to escape the drought, he said, and spring and summer months usually bring increased water usage and accelerate evaporation from lakes and rivers used for drinking water.

Falls Lake, Raleigh's primary reservoir, has gained about 5 feet in the past week, but remains almost 3 feet below normal levels, officials said Tuesday. The available drinking water in the lake should last at least through Nov. 25, based on the current demand of 38.5 million gallons a day, officials said.

Rocky Mount officials announced they plan to ease water restrictions Wednesday. Residents on the system will be allowed to water outside two evenings a week, wash their cars at home and use pressure washers.

The Orange Water and Sewer Authority said it was considering putting off plans to impose surcharges on customers to encourage conservation. The surcharges were expected to begin March 17.

"If I could sum it up in three words of what we need the public to do, it would be 'conserve, conserve and conserve,'" Easley said.

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  • fedupwithitall Mar 12, 2008

    Eyesintheskies - "How much more clueless can you get? The well is drilled into an aquifer or subsurface water table. The aquifer is fed by ground water that filters down into the voids between the layers of rock and other porous and permeable materials. Never pass up the chance to shut up."

    Thanks for the comment. I used the term "lake" very loosely, however, my main point was that the AQUIFER from which you extract water through your well is not solely on your property. It is more than likely a part of a very large aquifer that serves many, many people. So, never pass up the chance to understand exactly what someone is talking about, rather than just being rude.

  • charlesboyer Mar 12, 2008

    "People who built bomb shelters years ago wasted their money."

    Using that logic, automobile insurance is a waste of money if you do not have a wreck.

    The specter of global nuclear war was very high, and in fact, on two or three separate occasions, we can very close to exactly that happening. The Cuban Missile Crisis was one and there was at least one other one I will leave for you to dig up from the history books. Had things gotten worse, those bomb shelters would have been vital and if they had been needed it would have been too late to build one.

    That's the nature of preparedness. Those who are wise and plan for the future are in a good position and those who are not suffer.

    To get back to water, you say the drought is a 100 year event. Yes, that's true. But the impact of the drought has demonstrated the fact that this area has insufficient resources for the future and that the time has come to begin the process of adding more water resources.

  • charlesboyer Mar 12, 2008

    "I have heard repeatedly some politicians say that we are in an eight hundred year drought. How do they know that? I mean, there are no records that prove that. The native Americans surely didn't have detailed records that prove that."

    Recent droughts are easily identified using tree rings. In years where there is a severe drought, trees do not grow as well and this is reflected in their annual rings. The opposite is true in good growth years. Many trees are well into 100+ years of growth.

    There are also other techniques to identify growth of plants (or not) depending on moisture conditions in soil samples. Cores of soil can go back many millennia and provide extremely reliable analysis.

  • silverado32 Mar 12, 2008

    to all you private well users. you better let your congressman know how you feel about being told how to monitor your well water. i have and you should to. there is a protest for this please help.

  • lpf88 Mar 11, 2008

    Ground water is state property, unfortunately. I have a well at home, too. You pay for the right to use it by installing your own well, but it is a common good.

  • lpf88 Mar 11, 2008

    In TRUE third world countries, public works are indeed rationed. Many people live below the poverty line, starve, and live in substandard housing.

    I hardly think that requiring citizens to use water responsibly by asking them to give up a green lawn in front of a mcmansion or live with dust on their SUV is grounds for calling NC a third world country.

  • whatelseisnew Mar 11, 2008

    I am always amazed at the clueless comments that surface about wells. Apparently that "lake" under my property has a bizarre profile. My well is around 110 feet deep. My neighbors well located about 30 feet away from mine is 300 feet deep. I guess I better insist he fill in that hole because obviously my "lake" water has to be draining into his well. A private well is exactly that, private. I own the infrastructure and I own the rights to the water that I can pull up using that infrastructure. As to Easley, I really wish that clown would resign and leave the state. He has been an utter disaster as a Governor.

  • WRALSUCKS Mar 11, 2008

    "RKBA, how do you know the drought is almost over?"

    Let me restate..."now that the lake is almost full"....

    And.. by the way, how do you know it's NOT almost over?

  • fireman1963 Mar 11, 2008

    Isn't it amazing that the plan has no real "solution," just penalties for violating some politician's rule that was made up during a knee-jerk session.

    The real solution shoul dbe to provide new sources of drinking water. Be it new reserviors, storage tanks, or some other means. Simply forcing people to conserve under threat of fines and/or other penalties is not the answer to the long-term problems.

    And, yes, it is amazing that after the last two heavy rainfalls, they have come up with a plan.

    With Falls Lake now up substantially from where it was just two weeks ago, the citizens of Raleigh and Wake County do not need to rest on their laurels. We still need to be vigilant about conserving water. And if you want t green lawn, plant burmuda for the summer and but some spray paint for the winter.

  • WRALSUCKS Mar 11, 2008

    >It is all hot dry air until there is managed growth.

    Exactly so...and until Easley and Meeker address that issue, it's all noise...

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