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Recycled water could keep new homes flowing in drought

Posted January 28, 2008
Updated April 30, 2008

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— Developers would use treated wastewater to prepare new home sites if the ongoing drought forces Raleigh to impose tougher restrictions on water use, according to a proposal made to city officials Monday.

The Home Builders Association of Raleigh-Wake County devised a list of conservation measures developers could undertake to ensure home construction wouldn't grind to a halt if the city adopts Stage 2 water limits to conserve its dwindling supply of drinking water.

The Stage 2 restrictions, which could be implemented as early as next week, would prevent developers from flushing water lines in new neighborhoods. Flushing the lines is a required step for buildings to get certificates of occupancy, without which they cannot be used.

Fifteen builders brainstormed for ideas to prevent the tap from being turned off on home construction and came up with the following recommendations:

  • Capture drinking water used to flush water lines and truck it back to Falls Lake, Raleigh's primary reservoir, or the city water treatment plant.
  • Use treated wastewater to flush sewer lines, control dust, clean streets in new developments, pressure-wash new homes, set the stone base for paving and compacting soil.
  • Encourage builders to install water-saving devices inside homes and rain barrels outside whenever possible.

The steps would save an average of about 2,100 gallons per lot, the panel said. Developers also would pick up the estimated $750 cost of trucking water back to Falls Lake or the water treatment plant and bringing in treated wastewater.

The panel also recommended that Raleigh hold off installing water meters for outdoor irrigation until drought conditions ease, although developers could continue to install irrigation systems at new homes. The city also should provide developers with waivers of landscaping requirements, such as the time frame for grass to germinate to control erosion, the builders' panel said.

Mayor Charles Meeker said the proposals are a good start, but don't go far enough. He said, for example, that he would like to see drinking water phased out of irrigation uses in all new construction.

Raleigh officials are in the midst of planning a system that would pump treated wastewater back to portions of the city for uses like outdoor water and street cleaning, but the system wouldn't begin operating for at least two years.

"The bottom line is we are going to have to look at water differently, in the way that some of the Western states have. Use it for the things that are really important and not waste it on things that are not as important," Meeker said.

Home builders association Executive Vice President Tim Minton said new homes use a small percentage of the city's water, and he predicted Meeker's proposal would bring a negative reaction from home buyers.

"We would love to be in a situation where we could use reclaimed water (for irrigation)," Minton said. "But there's not an infrastructure in place right now to do that."

Still, some in the industry said changing the rules could become necessary.

"Nobody wants it to get to that point, but if we don't get the water, then we have to have the water to live off of," said Chad Ray, of Olde Heritage Builders. "I think anyone would say, 'As long as I have water to drink, then I can do without watering my lawn.'"


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  • charlesboyer Jan 30, 2008

    "I love how everyone had 20/20 vision about the water shortage. I didn't see anyone volunteering to double of triple their taxes to pay for big construction projects a few years ago. It isn't like reservoirs or desalination plants are cheap" - bill0

    You do realize that these projects are almost always paid for at a Federal level, you know, the entity that spends about 2.4 trillion dollars a year -- that's 2.4 million million dollars. Building a new reservoir in lieu of a bridge to nowhere or another truly wasteful federal project would not impact your taxes at all.

  • Space Mountain Jan 29, 2008

    How about just stop building so many new homes?

  • whatelseisnew Jan 28, 2008

    Folks at any price per gallon; it does not create any additional water. Continuing to add more users is quite insane.

  • RWC Jan 28, 2008

    They don't get it: More houses=more water usage=more money in developers pockets=us taxpayers willeventually foot the bill!

  • Patriot1 Jan 28, 2008

    Fuuny thing I worte the city council weeks ago about the surchange and not one of them emailed me back except meeker. He said keep concerving. They dont care about us..just the builders

  • seeingthru Jan 28, 2008

    what a crock, stop development NOW!!!!

  • moreupset Jan 28, 2008

    What happened to the IMPACT FEE proposal? Increase in total water usage is proportional to growth.

  • miketroll3572 Jan 28, 2008

    Right on Dave.........

  • miketroll3572 Jan 28, 2008

    Beachnut is almost right, with everybody conserving water and Ral building like normal, that big slab of dried mud is comming and soon. You would think the leaders of Ral would have figured it out already.

  • DaveTonyNC Jan 28, 2008

    I wish I could face down the Mayor, the entire town council and every Builder is Wake County. I would dress them down as to embarrass their continual greed, lack of true planning and the root-causes we now find ourselves in for all of Raleigh and beyond. I openly condemn any and all Building in Wake county for the most obvious reasons. Try this one on for size though. Perhaps many of the greedy Builders will also go out of business taking taking fat-cat salaries to another state. Perhaps their mortgages will go unpaid and they too will join the rest of us in this struggle. Only now have they faced up to the Problems they all have built us into and like many you see - we have little choice to but live with these results their greed have brought on us all.