Raleigh, N.C. — The City Council approved plans Tuesday to implement tiered water rates for customers on the municipal system next year.
The action was one of several water-related moves the council took. Others include laying the ground work to buy water from Cary, enlisting inspectors to check if local businesses have installed low-flow devices to conserve water and reviewing the city's car wash certification program.
Tiered rates would charge heavy water users more than average users. The city's current billing system cannot account for tiered rates, so upgraded software will be purchased this year to begin charging the tiered rates by next spring.
The rates that would be charged under the new system haven't been set.
City officials also plan to draw up a contract by April 1 that they could use in emergencies to purchase up to 2.5 million gallons of water a day from Cary. The unprecedented move would cost the city $10,000 a day and would need to be approved by the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources because Raleigh and Cary draw water from different river basins.
"There's nothing wrong with being prepared. There's nothing wrong with being prepared for this disaster," Councilman Thomas Crowder said.
Mayor Charles Meeker asked Monday for inspections of low-flow devices, saying continued conservation is necessary for the area to survive the ongoing drought.
The City Council in January urged all local residents and businesses to install low-flow shower heads, faucets and other devices by March 1 to reduce water consumption. Meeker said the inspections would help determine whether anyone was heeding that call.
If the inspections find widespread noncompliance with the move to low-flow devices, the City Council might need to make the move mandatory, Meeker said.
The voluntary inspections, which will start next week, will focus on office buildings, apartment complexes, hotels and fitness centers, he said, because the water users in those facilities aren't employees of the owner paying the water bill. Fifteen of each type of facility will be checked.
Since Raleigh imposed Stage 2 restrictions on Feb. 15, municipal water use has fallen about 7 to 8 percent, from about 40 million gallons a day to about 37 million gallons a day, he said. Under Stage 2, drinking water cannot be used for outdoor watering or pressure-washing, and dozens of car washes were closed.
A City Council committee next week is expected to look at tightening the standards officials use to certify car washes, allowing them to continue operating under Stage 2 restrictions. Car washes that use no more than 55 gallons of water for each wash can be certified, but officials said that amount is too much, considering the severity of the drought.
"Needless to say, that's not what anyone on the current council or former council had intended," Meeker said.
Also in the next two weeks, City Manager Russell Allen plans to submit his proposals for "Stage 3" water restrictions, along with outlining the conditions that would trigger such rules.