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Drought response bill gets a rewrite

Posted June 23, 2008

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— Gov. Mike Easley's drought response proposal has been edited to satisfy concerns of local governments and farmers, but its unclear how many of his suggestions will get passed before the Legislature adjourns for the year.

Progress was made Monday as Easley administration officials met with interest groups again to try to reach a compromise that will pass the General Assembly. Lawmakers wants to leave town next month, but Senate Bill 1879 has passed neither the House nor the Senate.

Easley has said he wants the bill enacted as soon as possible since the entire state is experiencing worse drought conditions than this time last year. The latest report from the state Drought Management Advisory Council, issued Thursday, shows all 100 counties are experiencing some level of drought conditions.

That means North Carolina must be prepared for another arid summer and fall, a top state environmental regulator said.

"I would hate to see the clock run down on this," said Robin Smith, assistant secretary in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. "We need to get everybody in a stronger position to get through this year than we were in last year."

Easley asked lawmakers in March to give him more authority prepare for and fight future droughts. But the state's towns and cities were unhappy with some components that they argue would erode their controls to conserve water and allow unprepared areas to siphon away their water more easily.

The environment department rolled out an updated proposal Monday that would require a water system to reduce water use by 10 percent when a drought in its area reaches the level of "extreme" drought, the second-worst category. A 20 percent reduction would be required in the worst level, an "exceptional" drought.

Water systems that have implemented year-round mandatory water restrictions for 12 months would be exempt from the 10 percent requirement, the new draft proposal said.

The change satisfies municipalities' concerns about Easley's original plan, which would have required a community to meet minimum water conservation standards if its area was in the three worst categories of drought. Local governments said they are best able to set their own conservation methods.

"It certainly gives a lot more control over the issue ... and where we can believe we can meet that reduction," said Anita Watkins, a legislative lobbyist for the North Carolina League of Municipalities.

But how the reduction would be calculated hasn't been settled. The department's proposal would perform a previous-month comparison, but that does not take into account changing use patterns depending on the seasons. And comparison should take into account a community's population growth, Watkins said.

Amy Pickle, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center in Chapel Hill, said lawmakers should give state regulators for now the discretion to set the percentage of water use reduction required. She pointed out that Easley asked citizens to reduce water use by 30 percent last fall.

"There may be circumstance that 10 or 20 percent may not be fully protective of the resources," Pickle said at the informal meeting.

Private well users also would be subject to a local government's conservation measures under the plan.

The updated proposal also requires the state environmental secretary to consult with a water system and explain in writing before declaring a water shortage emergency. The emergency powers would allow the governor to order a local government to give up some of its water to another water system when a problem arises.

The new draft also included an agreement already reached by the Easley administration and farmers in which they would provide more information about ground and surface water they use.

The state would receive information from farmers who use more than 10,000 gallons a day, compared to the current requirement of 1 million gallons. The N.C. Farm Bureau says the method to collect the data under the lower threshold would not burden their members.

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  • hlwn7 Jun 24, 2008

    bendal,
    DUH! A statement that "chances are that your well is in an aquifer being used by a lot more than just you" has no factual or scientific basis. I could just as easily say that chances are that your well ISN'T part of an aquifer being used by a lot more than just you. I wouldn't say that because I have no facts. You would have to have some scientific study to conclude that "chances are" or "chances are not". If you have that, point me to it.

  • john60 Jun 24, 2008

    hlwn7,

    Aquifers are underground water sources, period. They can be large or small, and overlap each other without mixing. It all depends on what the soil layers above and below them are made of and how impermeable they may be.

    I'm not saying anything about your particular source of well water, or where it comes from or what keeps it from going dry. Your water may taste "limey" because there is a source of lime right next to your well that water is percolating through; the only way to know for sure if others are on the same aquifer is to do a dye test, though.

    But, an aquifer is just another name for underground water, but that doesn't mean all underground water is in ONE aquifer. There are lots of them, big and small.

  • hlwn7 Jun 24, 2008

    Bendal,
    I'm curious as to how you know this. For instance, my well has limey tasting water but no one near me has limey tasting water. If my water is limey tasting and my neighbors' water is not, would that mean that my water empties into Falls or Jordan Lake or is it an aquifer by itself and how would we know that "chances are your private well in an an aquifer being used by a lot more than just you"? I think the fact is that you're just making a guess about this and have absolutley no scientific facts to back up your statement, unless of course, you can produce some.

  • john60 Jun 24, 2008

    Aquifer = underground water source

    It may be small, it may be large, but unless you know without a doubt what the limits of that source of water is, chances are your private well is in an aquifer being used by a lot more than just you.

  • whatelseisnew Jun 23, 2008

    RoadGeek - there is no Aquifer from which well around here draw water. My well is just over 100 feet deep. My neighbors well that is drilled thirty feet away is over 200 feet deep. Besides this legislation is talking about private wells that serve as a water source to multiple households and is in fact a metered supply. The state has no say so over my private well. None at all. I have the rights to what is beneath my property.

  • hlwn7 Jun 23, 2008

    RoadGeek, Your comments are absurd. How do you know that most likely that someone's well water draws from "OUR" aquifer." For all you know, a well vein at 350 feet may come from somewhere in South Carolina or Virginia with no connection to Falls or Jordan Lake.Unless you're catagorizing "OUR" as the entire world, you don't have a clue from where the water is drawn. I've know a lot of people who have had to go to the expense of drilling two or three dry holes before finding water but never have I heard of them asking the government to drill them a well. The government, with its knee jerk ideas, needs to stay clear of private property!

  • chfdcpt Jun 23, 2008

    DontAnnoyMe, I stand corrected. I also remember when University Lake was the primary water source for Chapel Hill/Carrboro. When they started to outgrow the water supply, not only did they go into mandatory conservation, but also looked into establishing another water source. That was how Cane Creek Reservoir came into being.

  • hlwn7 Jun 23, 2008

    It's probably not too early for NC private well owners to start thinking about organizing and lawyering up.

  • DontAnnoyMe Jun 23, 2008

    "Too bad that Cary was the only one in the area that has been doing mandatory year round conservation.

    Not true. Orange Water and Sewer instituted year-round restrictions in 2003. It works.

  • lizard Jun 23, 2008

    Build more dams. That's the answer.

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