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Raleigh Throws in Kitchen Sink in Search of Water

Posted February 14, 2008

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— City officials are considering numerous options, from accelerating construction on a water-treatment plant to banking on help from Congress, as they look for long-term solutions to the drought.

Falls Lake, the city's primary reservoir, could run dry by this summer, according to a forecast by the Army Corps of Engineers, which manages the lake. The forecast is based on no decrease in current demand levels and predictions for continued dry weather in the coming months.

To help conserve as much water as possible in Falls Lake, Raleigh officials have asked the Corps to cut the amount of water it releases into the Neuse River to maintain water quality for downstream cities that use the river for drinking water. About 38 million gallons are now released into the river daily – almost equal to the 40 million gallons a day used by water customers in Raleigh and the six surrounding towns its system serves.

U.S. Rep. Brad Miller plans to attend a meeting next Tuesday of the Raleigh City Council and Corps officials. Miller wants to get "a detailed explanation of what the city's concerns are" regarding releases into the Neuse River, said LuAnn Canipe, Miller's spokesman.

"We're confident the Corps and our congressional delegation will help us look at those issues," City Manager Russell Allen said.

Dean Naujoks, of the Neuse River Foundation, called the push for smaller releases from Falls Lake "not a good decision."

"Raleigh did not act soon enough on water-conservation measures," Naujoks said. "Raleigh Public Utilities depends on revenues coming into water sales, so they're reluctant to move toward conservation sooner."

Raleigh officials also are looking at speeding up construction of a treatment plant at Lake Benson. An accelerated construction schedule – moving the opening date up about 10 months to the summer of 2009 – could add about $10 million to the plant's $90 million cost.

"It doesn't supply us assistance with this immediate drought circumstance," Allen said. "It will provide us about 20 million gallons (a day) of extra capacity."

In the short term, "package plants," miniature, temporary treatment plants often used by private subdivisions, could be used to start pulling water from Lake Benson, he said.

City Council members also have talked about creating a "Stage 3" level of water restrictions. The city will enact Stage 2 restrictions on Friday, banning outdoor watering and pressure-washing and requiring car washes to use certified water-recycling systems or close.

Raleigh also has asked the Corps for permission to dip into the sediment pool at Falls Lake once the drinking-quality water runs out, and the city is in discussions with Cary to purchase water from Jordan Lake.

"We've tried to do good planning," Allen said.

Most observers agreed that the only sure-fire way to replenish the water supply in the coming months is a tropical storm.

"If we don't get a remnant of a hurricane (and) we don't have a wet summer this year, we could be in very serious trouble in terms of running out of water," Naujoks said.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • SheriffTruman Feb 15, 2008

    Funny, if Raleigh understood that a unified system was better, why did they fail to see that adding lots of additional users to a system without adding capacity (since most of the towns were added because they were facing turning points in needing to expand their supplies) would be a problem.

    I also think it is funny that they are not reduing the water out of Falls for those downstream. I would bet that if Falls were not there at all, there would have been a significant reduction in flows downstream of Raleigh due to the drought. So, people downstream are getting an artificially high water flow at the expense of Raleigh.

  • charlesboyer Feb 15, 2008

    Why, so the people in Raleigh would have more water to waste? Maybe it's time for Raleigh to allow a more responsible municipality to manage their water resources.

    There are a couple of pertinent facts that you seem to be overlooking: first, that the reservoirs are not property of any city, they are federally owned and secondly, Raleigh is the largest city in the area and as such is the largest economic engine in the region.

    Finally, if it were up to me, a regional water authority would not be run by local politicians. I would instead have a group assembled out of elected representatives and qualified water resource experts that would be empowered to make the decisions in the best interests of the region as opposed favoring one or the other single municipality.

  • JuanGrande v3.0 Feb 15, 2008

    To paraphrase another great American, Dr. Phil: "How's that working out for you?"

  • mr.chip Feb 15, 2008

    "Somebody please explain why Stage 2 wasn't enforced last summer?!?!?! "

    It's all about $$$. If they had enacted conservation measures, revenue would have decreased immediately. Now that measures have been enacted, and revenue has been down for some time, they're talking about levying additional fees to make it up.

  • JuanGrande v3.0 Feb 15, 2008

    Somebody please explain why Stage 2 wasn't enforced last summer?!?!?! We'd be better off right now if they did so. To paraphrase Mr. Spock: "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few."

  • piperchuck Feb 15, 2008

    "The smartest thing that the city could do would be to lobby Congress to force a merger of all of the local water authorities and have them merge supplies."

    Why, so the people in Raleigh would have more water to waste? Maybe it's time for Raleigh to allow a more responsible municipality to manage their water resources.

  • veyor Feb 15, 2008

    "Raleigh officials also are looking at speeding up construction of a treatment plant..moving the opening date up..to the summer of 2009." I hope they don't keep "looking at" it until the summer of 2009.

  • Greyhound_Girl Feb 15, 2008

    "The forecast is based on no decrease in current demand levels and predictions for continued dry weather in the coming months." Ummmmm, what about all the new houses being added to the already suffering system?? And...throwing more money at this (impact fees, increased water fees for consumers, etc.) is NOT going to fix it.

    New building permits should never have been approved once they identified that we were running out of water. There are plenty of "used" houses sitting and rotting on the market for people to buy.

  • ncwebguy Feb 15, 2008

    If water revenue is "going to other projects/lining pockets", where did the $90 million for the Lake Benson treatment plant come from? Santa? The Easter Bunny? The water treatment plant fairy?

    Umm no, the water/sewer fees. The city started selling water to other communities because it understands a united system works better than multiple smaller systems. And the other watershed would be tapped to provide the extra supply. Unfortunately, a once every 10 years drought came at the wrong time. And the dirty secret that Falls Lake doesn't have the capacity it was supposed to reared its ugly head too.

    Home owner assocations like the one in Wake Forest value green lawns more than drinking water. They threatened to fine residents who *didn't* water their lawn. They used up the water that could be in Falls Lake today, but do you blame them? No. People that covet "freedom" now cry because water restrictions weren't in place earlier. The city is dammed if they do or don't.

  • Southern Fried Yankee Feb 15, 2008

    I say we all start wearing sponge masks to recover the moisture in our breath....Oh, and when you sweat, have a sponge and container handy.......

    OR...we could get serious about that fresh water being dumped into the ocean from the PCS Phosphates plant......Gee, now THAT's an idea....