Local News

Meeker: Limit Daily Water Use to 25 Gallons Per Person

Posted January 7, 2008
Updated January 8, 2008

— Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker on Monday proposed a daily water consumption limit of 25 gallons per person and a temporary 50 percent surcharge on water bills.

The daily limit and the surcharge were among seven recommendations Meeker said he would present to the Raleigh City Council on Tuesday to help conserve the city's dwindling water supply as much as possible.

"We're requesting all citizens to conserve," he said. "As a city here in Raleigh and as a region, we are going to have to use water more carefully."

Falls Lake, which serves as the city's primary reservoir, is about one-third full and has about 4.8 billion gallons of available water, compared with 14 billion to 15 billion gallons when at normal levels, Meeker said. Officials said the available water supply in the lake should last about 120 days.

"These conditions have been out in the western part of the country for decades, and now things are sort of changing for us," Meeker said. "We are going to have to address things differently and change things in the years ahead."

The average person uses 60 to 70 gallons of water daily for drinking, bathing, washing clothes and dishes and flushing toilets, according to local and national officials.

Jerry Jenkins of plumbing supply company Bradford Sales Co. said low-flow toilets like the Caroma Dual-Flush could cut water usage for a four-person family by about 3,000 gallons a year, or more than eight gallons a day. Low-flow shower heads could cut another gallon or more per minute over standard showers.

"It's not a short-term problem. It's a long-term (one), and we have a solution for the long term," Jenkins said.

The surcharge, if approved, would be implemented March 1 and would appear on May bills, Meeker said. It could be repealed when drought conditions end, he said. The extra cost is designed to encourage conservation while offsetting the decline in revenue for Raleigh's Department of Public Utilities from that conservation, he said.

"The point here is for everybody to be cutting back on their water usage," he said.

Water bills will be redesigned to tell homeowners exactly how many gallons they are using, Meeker said. Current bills are based on units of water, which translate to about 750 gallons each.

Raleigh officials would prefer to use tiered rates that scale charges according to water consumption, he said, but the city's software system can't accommodate that type of billing. The city is looking to upgrade its billing system in a couple of years to one that would allow tiered rates, he said.

Even with a surcharge, Raleigh's water rates would be comparable to those charged by other area municipalities, Meeker said.

"It's our intention to get everyone conserving so that people don't have higher water bills rather than charging higher bills and still using more water," he said.

The mayor also said all homeowners, apartment complex managers and office building landlords – including state government and universities – should install low-flow shower heads, faucet restrictors and toilet inserts by March 1. The city will work with nonprofit groups to help low-income families purchase the devices, he said.

The city also will ask builders to install such low-flow devices in new developments and to install outdoor irrigation systems that don't tap into the drinking water supply, he said.

"We need to change our practices in this community so that drinking water is used for drinking and not for irrigation," he said.

Developers haven't yet reviewed Meeker's proposals, but they realize some action needs to be done to head off building limits, said Tim Minton, executive vice president of the Home Builders Association of Raleigh-Wake County.

"We do recognize that we're in dire straits now, and that means we have to tighten our belts like everyone else," Minton said. "What the Home Builders (Association) members are more concerned with is that you won't be able to build. If you can't build a house, landscaping is not an issue."

The association plans to launch a "green council" in the coming weeks to encourage developers to use more sustainable techniques in design and construction, he said.

Meeker said the 140,000 customers on Raleigh's water system should purchase rain barrels or other devices to have water for outdoor irrigation this year. The ban on outdoor watering will likely remain in place for the foreseeable future, he said.

"If the dry conditions persist – I don't know if they'll persist one month or one year – we're not going to have drinking water available for lawn watering," he said.

Raleigh officials plan to meet with the Army Corps of Engineers, which manages Falls Lake, to see how far discharges into the Neuse River from the lake can be cut without harming the river quality or endangering downstream water systems.

Finally, Meeker said he would ask the mayors of Garner, Knightdale, Rolesville, Wake Forest, Wendell and Zebulon to enact similar proposals. The six towns purchase water from Raleigh.


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  • Joshua Jan 8, 2008

    Write to these idiots and tell them what YOU think!!

    charles.meeker@ci.raleigh.nc.us nancy.mcfarlane@ci.raleigh.nc.us mary-ann.baldwin@ci.raleigh.nc.us rodger.koopman@ci.raleigh.nc.us russ.stephenson@ci.raleigh.nc.us james.west@ci.raleigh.nc.us thomas.crowder@ci.raleigh.nc.us pisley@boyceisley.com

  • Deb1003 Jan 8, 2008

    I would hope if they're planning to add a surcharge for every gallon over the alloted limit, they would provide a rebate for every gallon UNDER the limit. But if their sw can't handle a simple tiered calculation, I'm guessing this would be virtually impossible for them to figure out. If my family is out of town for a week or two, the rebate would cover me for a couple months of excess...to catch up on laundry..lol

  • CoCo Jan 8, 2008

    This will be like the "temporary" sales tax increase.

    And do you know that if you use gas to heat your home and you fall into a "low usage" arbitrary category, some companies actually add a surcharge for that low usage? You can't win.

    This is all based on negative, "don't do" versus "do" thinking. Look for consistent high-usage instances and charge them instead. Fix the leaks in the State waterlines and systems instead of immediately focusing on residents.

    Many people are more pro-active than government and have had significant water-saving features in their homes for years. They should be applauded for that - not penalized by across the board actions. The taxpayer golden egg is already being squeezed to the breaking point.

  • reality4sure Jan 8, 2008

    Raleigh has grown leaps and bounds. It has been previously identified at the top of several surveys for best city in America and lowest unemployment.

    I don't know that anyone predicted how this growth would affect our water supply. I like the idea of IMPACT FEES and I think if there is going to be a surcharge, the new construction, businesses and homeowners should pay it.

    As a resident of Raleigh, I'm already in this poker game. You can join the game if you would like, but you have to "buy in" first.

    I support conserving water and could even stomach a surcharge in order to motivate residents to conserve. But I also think that the developers should bear the highest majority of any surcharge. And the money should do something to address the water problem, not buy more school books.

    Raleigh is a great place to live, but my ante is in and I have been playing this hand for 18 years.

  • mvnull Jan 8, 2008

    Unfortunately, you can't just directly compare Cary and Raleigh. How big are the watersheds? How many acres/person are the watersheds? How about permeable vs impermeable?

    Along the same vein, you can't just put up a dam anywhere. If it has the same watershed, then you haven't gained anything. For public health reasons, the federal government has regulations concerning how close together water supplies can be.

    The one thing that can be done immediately to help ease the situation is to control growth. That does, however, tend to get conservatives' panties in a bunch.

  • terriz Jan 8, 2008

    In Cary, we've been on alternate day watering, had rules about rain sensors, and been paying on a tiered system for over 5 years. And we have over a year's worth of water available to us via Lake Jordan as a result. I'm surprised that our local news hasn't reported that story more widely, in comparison to the emergency situations in Raleigh, Durham, etc. If memory serves me, Cary also stopped (or slowed down drastically) the issuance of building permits while we were waiting for a new water plant about 5-6 years ago.

    This is one time I'm glad to be living in Cary and not ashamed to admit it!

  • terriz Jan 8, 2008

    A number of people have questioned the 25 gal/day limit. In the Town of Cary water conservation pamphlet, they cite amounts of ~70 gal/day per person before conservation and ~45 gal/day after (http://www.townofcary.net/depts/pwdept/
    I don't know if these are typical numbers but I can say that without outdoor watering, our family of four averages less than 45 gal/day per person -- but nowhere near 25 gal/day. That seems to be a pretty restrictive goal.

  • tarheelpatriot Jan 8, 2008

    At restuarants you may have to request water but waitresses routinely bring extra sodas nobody asked for or wanted. Last Sunday we left the table with 6 full sodas going to waste.
    That soda is made from some water supply but I'm not smart enough to know who's. Fountain drinks uses who's water??
    to know

  • ncsulilwolf Jan 8, 2008

    Here are the two problems I have with the proposal, as reported here.

    "It could be repealed when drought conditions end, he said." --> It could be? Or - it probably won't be.

    "the city's software system can't accommodate that type of billing. The city is looking to upgrade its billing system in a couple of years to one that would allow tiered rates, he said." --> Why don't we go ahead and take care of business now? It's this lack of planning and proactive planning that has brought us to our current position ANYHOW.

    Just my $0.02 :-)

  • districtcadvocate Jan 7, 2008

    This report is misleading. The proposal is an attempt to incentivize customers to reduce their consumption by 1/3rd. If you do this the 50% increase will be 0.

    I ate this was not made clear I also feel that all of this has to be implemented with the Stage II water restrictions which would stop the water testing of any new subdivision water systems.

    The voters response to this overture needs to show a clarity that the proposal, as reported in this article, fails to do.