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Easley urges more water conservation, orders ban on open burning

Gov. Mike Easley on Monday called for further cutbacks in water consumption by every North Carolinian to conserve limited water supplies that he said will likely continue to shrink in the coming months.

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FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — Gov. Mike Easley on Monday called for further cutbacks in water consumption by every North Carolinian to conserve limited water supplies that he said will likely continue to shrink in the coming months.

"I need every single community and every single citizen in North Carolina now doing everything they can to save every drop of water they can," Easley said in an address to the annual conference of the North Carolina League of Municipalities. "We have to act now to avoid running out of water."

Mandatory water limits put in place by scores of cities and towns statewide don't provide enough conservation, he said. However, he stopped short of declaring a state of emergency, which would have called for cutting water use by 20 to 30 percent more than local restrictions require.

"I need all 8.5 million North Carolinians chipping in and thinking about this issue and water conservation every single day," he said. "We're all in this together. It can't be done (only) in the Capitol; it can't be done just at city hall. It has to be done in every business and every home in this state."

Eighty-six of the state's 100 counties are experiencing extreme or exceptional drought conditions – the two worst of the state's five drought categories, and Easley said the National Weather Service has forecast a drier-than-normal winter. That means the state could be in a water crisis next year if it doesn't conserve as much as possible each day, he said.

"We can lessen the impact, but only if we take the action necessary today and work together," he said, comparing the drought to the emergency situations presented by hurricanes or winter storms. "A little sacrifice now can prevent a crisis and a disaster in the spring."

Easley called for a complete stop to outdoor watering and on individuals washing cars. He also issued a statewide outdoor burning ban to lessen the potential for a wildfire.

"A dirty car is a sign of civic responsibility," he said, adding that brown grass is appropriate for mid-October.

Around the state, lakes have been running dry and reservoirs are being drawn far down. Falls Lake, Raleigh's primary reservoir, is down more than 7½ feet from normal, while Durham's Lake Michie is down about 14 feet.

Many municipalities have declared mandatory or voluntary water restrictions.

"Generally, they (state officials) rely on us to know what is best for our communities, and as a whole, I think most of the system operators recognize that and are going to do the right thing," Raleigh Public Utilities Director Dale Crisp said last week.

Raleigh officials were expected to look at banning lawn-watering during Tuesday's City Council meeting. The "Stage 1.5" restrictions would help reduce daily demand while sparing businesses that depend on water, officials said.

The city also is trying to conserve water, including using rain barrels to capture water in city parks and implementing a slow-drip method to water newly planted trees. Officials said they hope to cut usage by 15 to 20 percent.

Durham has tightened its water restrictions. Beginning Tuesday, the city will ban all outdoor watering with automatic sprinkler systems and hose-end sprinklers. Hand-held watering hoses or drip irrigation will be allowed on Saturdays only, between 5 a.m. and 8 a.m. or 5 p.m. and 8 p.m.

“After re-evaluating our water situation this weekend, I feel it’s prudent to cut back even more and even sooner than we had anticipated,” Durham City Manager Patrick Baker said.

Jordan Lake, Cary's primary reservoir, has dropped about 5 ½ feet. However, since the lake is the largest reservoir in the Triangle, Cary residents have not been asked to conserve anymore than they have been.

“We are looking at the situation to see if there are additional steps that we need to take and we will do that when it's necessary,” Cary Public Works Director Michael Bajorek said.

Industries that use water face the grim prospect of shutting down and laying off workers if the state runs short of water, Easley said. State officials are organizing regional meetings to discuss conservation and ways to supplement water sources, he said.

"We can either create more water or use less," he said. "I don't know about you, but I cannot make it rain, so I think we're going to have to work more toward conservation."


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