Raleigh, N.C. — City officials are preparing for the potential of moving to tighter water restrictions in the coming weeks – rules that could adversely affect some local businesses.
The City Council on Tuesday voted to give City Manager Russell Allen the authority to move to Stage 2 water restrictions if the city's water supply drops to 90 days.
The move is needed because Falls Lake, the city's primary reservoir, has about 101 days of drinking water left, and the council won't meet again January. Water levels in the lake reached a record low on Nov. 20 – breaking a 14-year-old record – and the levels have continued to fall to new records almost daily since then.
"This drought is off the charts," said Dale Crisp, Raleigh's public utilities director.
Stage 2 restrictions would eliminate all outdoor watering, including the use of hand-held hoses, ban power-washing and limit the types of car washes that could operate.
"It will affect car washes that are not certified for recycling. It will affect power-washing of houses (and) affect flushing of any lines of subdivisions," Mayor Charles Meeker said. "So, it does start to affect employment in some areas, which we've tried to avoid."
Nineteen car washes have been certified by the city as using recycled water.
The city adopted "Stage 1.5" restrictions in October to cut water consumption by focusing mainly on residential limits while allowing businesses the option of conserving water voluntarily. Officials also recently started pumping water from Lake Benson into the Neuse River to decrease the amount of water released from Falls Lake into the river for downstream communities.
"This is a very serious situation, and that's why the council is being asked to take the next step," Meeker said.
Restaurants also would be prohibited from serving water to diners unless asked under Stage 2 restrictions, and hotel guests staying more than one night would be asked to reuse towels to cut down on laundering.
The new rules also would come with tougher penalties for violations. During the first two weeks after Stage 2 regulations are in place, violations would bring $250 fines, but the fines jump to $1,000 after the two-week grace period.
The move to Stage 2 restrictions also apply to water customers in Garner, Rolesville, Wake Forest, Knightdale, Wendell and Zebulon, which get their water from Raleigh. Public utilities officials said the move could save an average of 1 million to 2 million gallons a day overall.
Raleigh has no tighter restrictions beyond Stage 2, but Meeker said the city is making plans for further conservation efforts if the water supply continues to dwindle.
"I won't say much about toilets, but infrequent flushing is preferred," he said. "Those who are thinking about paper plates are fun as opposed to china, paper plates are fun, and now it's time to be thinking about that. Let's go ahead and do everything we can."