RALEIGH, N.C. — Water can flow freely again in Raleigh, after city leaders decided Tuesday to lift mandatory water restrictions for the first time in six months.
Mandatory water restrictions have been in place ever since November when the city's main source of water was 8 feet below normal. But Falls Lake is now 0.1 inches above normal.
In a unanimous vote, the City Council switched to voluntary water restrictions, which will lift restrictions on when city water customers can water their lawns and where they can wash their vehicles.
Before the meeting, concerned Raleigh residents had a chance to speak out about the issue.
"If you take the restrictions off, what's going to happen in two years if we have another drought?" said Raleigh resident Susan Vaughn.
"Here I am as a homeowner, unable to take a bucket of suds and go out to my car and wash it off and take the hose and rinse off the soap, without incurring a potential several hundred-dollar fine," said resident Charles Kirk.
Some Council members urged Raleigh residents to be responsible in their water usage, despite the loosened restrictions.
"I think that citizens do need to be extremely frugal when it comes to water use; but at the same time, they've been extremely diligent," said Council member Thomas Crowder
Rainfall for the region is still more than four inches below normal for the year. But Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker, who is pushing for voluntary restrictions, does not think that way.
"I'm confident they will use this freedom reasonably and not waste a lot of water," he said.
The Council voted Tuesday night after a public hearing on several recommendations by the city's Water Conservation Task for long-term actions to conserve water.
One of those proposals is for year-round mandatory restrictions -- an idea supported by Mayor Charles Meeker -- that would include lawn-watering just three days a week. Another proposal is to implement a rate structure based on a household's usage of water.
In regard to the mandatory restrictions, Council members could have considered lifting some mandatory rules, such as the car-washing rule, and keeping others in place, like when to water lawns.
Under Stage 2 mandatory water restrictions, city water customers were allowed to water their lawns only twice a week: Tuesdays and Saturdays for properties with odd-numbered addresses and on Wednesday and Sundays for even-numbered addresses.
First-time violators could be fined $200; a second offense could result in a $1,000 fine; and a third offense would result in water service being shut off.
A vote on the long-term conservation measures heard Tuesday night will come in two weeks.