Local News

Flush Plates, Not Toilets in Prolonged Drought

Posted December 13, 2007
Updated December 14, 2007

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— As the rainfall deficit across the Triangle reached new levels for the year, area officials Thursday discussed further lifestyle changes that residents might have to make to conserve as much water as possible.

A rainfall of 0.01 inches on Thursday brought up the year's deficiet at Raleigh-Durham International Airport, but only to 9.79 inches – still in record terrority. Long-term forecasts call for below-normal precipitation to continue in the coming months.

Seventy-eight counties are experiencing exceptional drought conditions, the worst of five categories monitored by the state Drought Management Advisory Council. That is up from 71 counties a week ago, the council said.

Nine counties are in extreme drought, the next level down, and 13 are in severe drought.

A low-pressure system developing in the Gulf of Mexico could bring some rain to the state late Saturday and early Sunday, but WRAL meteorologist Chris Thompson said an annual rainfall deficit of almost 10 inches won't be made up overnight.

"One rain is not going to end this drought. It's going to take a while," Thompson said.

Raleigh is prepared to enact Stage 2 water restrictions next week, when its drinking water supply in Falls Lake is expected to drop below 90 days. The tougher rules would ban outdoor watering and pressure-washing and would close car washes that don't use recycled water. They also would affect water-main testing for new development.

If there's no rain in the next 30 to 45 days, Mayor Charles Meeker said the city would take even more extreme measures.

"There'll likely be a request for paper plates instead of washing china, limitations on flushing toilets – things we're not used to but may have to go to," Meeker said.

That would require resturants to set out plastic silverware and paper plates, instead of fine china. Van Eure said that would not be a problem at the popular Angus Barn in Raleigh.

"We'll serve the same quality food, we'll have the same quality service," Eure said. "But we'll serve on nice paper plates or recycleable plastic plates, because we recycle everything here."

The city also could implement tiered water rates to penalize households that consume too much water. The threshold for a family would be about 3,000 gallons a month, he said.

"(We) likely will have some kind of tiered rate during this time so that if you use more than a certain amount in a house, then you'd pay more," he said.

The Triangle J Council of Governments, which is made up of mayors and county commissioners from across the region, met Thursday afternoon to discuss long-term solutions to the state's worsening water woes.

The Council's water resources manager Sydney Miller sounded an alarm about the pace of the advancing drought and urged local leaders to fix their old infrastructure to avoid wasting water.

Durham sees 13 percent, or 1.3 million gallons, of its daily water demand go down the drain due to such problems as leaky pipes. For similar reasons, Raleigh loses more than 3 million gallons, or 3 percent of its daily demand.

"Reservoir levels, even if they come up somewhat over this winter and into the spring, are going to drop even faster next summer than they did this summer," Miller said.

"We're all going to have to roll up our sleeves to address these needs and issues,"  Durham County Commissioner Ellen Reckhow said.

If the drought continues to escalate quickly and consumption levels remain the same, Raleigh could move to Stage 3 water restrictions, Meeker said.

"What was surprising is how quickly we can get into a serious drought in the Triangle," he said. "In two or three months, you can go from a normal situation to being in a severe drought."

With the drought expected to stretch well into 2008, Miller said people also should avoid outdoor planting next spring.

"Is it more important to have green grass, or is it more important to have jobs and have drinking water?" Miller said. "No one should be planting next spring. I wouldn't plant anything until next fall, and ... don't expect to water next year."

Some people called for caps on growth, noting increased populations have led to increased demand on area reservoirs.

"People like to use the analogy, well, you came here, and you want to close the gate. The other analogy is, if you get too many people in the lifeboat, everyone drowns," Orange County Commissioner Barry Jacobs said.

The state would likely have to help fund some of the solutions because local governments don't have the finances to pay for the cost of the drought, Reckhow said.

Gov. Mike Easley has resisted declaring a statewide emergency and putting limits on consumption at the water system level, saying he believes the drought is manageable through voluntary conservation.

"What you'd rather do is get people to voluntarily conserve," he said.


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  • fury54 Dec 14, 2007

    I'm someone else who has mentioned de-salinization plants on this topic over the past several months.... but even if they moved forward with the idea, you'ld still have people complaining..... NOT IN MY BACK YARD.. for both the plant and the pipeline. I can hear all the committee meetings and court battles already.

  • Travised Dec 14, 2007

    If I recall, Hawaii has a desalination plant that is in operation. One in NC would not be a new operation. Hawaii even sells the salt as well that is extracted if I recall.

    It is a good concept to put funding for being this isn't the first time water shortage has been an issue. Distribution would be the issue (what cities get the output), so I'd say it would have to be city or multiple city project for "control" being it would be their funds shuffled over there. Unless others pay in a percentage to have a distribution *IF* it can provide to others.

  • ohmygosh Dec 14, 2007

    Look at the difference between Phoenix and Tuscon.
    Phoenix never realized they were in the desert.
    Tuscon did and patterned their lifestyle accordingly.

    It is absurd that people bring in water from hundreds of miles away. Ditto getting Raleigh water via a pipeline to the coast.
    Stealing water from other's water resources is immoral.

    What is needed is to lower expectations and budget water use based upon what is available LOCALLY.

    3000 gallons/month represents 24,000 pounds of water. Do you really expect to get 24,000 pounds of anything for what you pay for water? The figure 20 years ago used to be 1000 gallons/month for a family of five. Perhaps charging 10 cents/pound would help get back to the 1000 gal/month figure.

  • MrPearce Dec 14, 2007

    Is there a limitation on deep wells within city limits?

    If money was no object, you should probably get in line for a 500ft well...

  • PaulRevere Dec 14, 2007

    This will kill some restaurants. An angus steak on a paper plate? Spare me. Then again, Mayor Meeker can subsidize them with taxpayer money like he did the downtown restaurants, right?

  • RyeBread Dec 14, 2007

    The focus seems to be on residential - what is the percentage of total water consumed by residents compared to that of businesses? I bet it's much smaller. Idea: Focus on reducing BUSINESS water usage.

  • Student Nurse Dec 13, 2007

    Curious as to what you all are using in terms of gallons per month. I have been really wondering how my efforts stack up against another family of 5 who is also trying to conserve.

  • hi_i_am_wade Dec 13, 2007

    P.S. This page shows all the El Nino/La Nina trends on record.

  • hi_i_am_wade Dec 13, 2007

    Bad news. I just saw somewhere that La Nina is expected to pass until March or April, whereas before they were saying January.

    That means a warm dry winter. Hopefully we won't be as dry as the old Dust Bowl. In any event, since this is nothing new nor unique, it means it will pass in time.

  • ncboy Dec 13, 2007

    so the state should give homeowners some type of tax credit for the plants, trees, etc that will be lost next year if no watering is allowed. also for the damage to car paint that occurs from not being able to wash it, and get off tar, bird droppings etc. its the leaders fault for allowing too much development with a water system that cannot handle the demand and for not doing something earlier like dredge the lake to hold more water...its their fault for not planning for this...this state has had many droughts before...why does it have to come to this for someone to act, and then the ones who pay are the innocent ones???????????????????????????