Local News

Raleigh Prohibits Lawn Sprinklers

Posted October 16, 2007 7:03 a.m. EDT
Updated October 17, 2011 10:23 a.m. EDT

— A day after Gov. Mike Easley asked all North Carolinians to do their part to help conserve water, the Raleigh City Council agreed to ban mechanical outdoor watering to conserve the city's dwindling supply of drinking water.

Even then, however, the tighter restrictions could add only nine days to the capacity at Falls Lake, the city's primary reservoir, City Manager Russell Allen said. The lake is down almost 8 feet from normal levels.

"I think we will get rains that will begin to restore the levels in the lake. That's something we will have to monitor," Allen said.

Raleigh implemented Stage 1 restrictions seven weeks ago, which cut consumption by 18 percent, to about 54 million gallons a day. Mayor Charles Meeker said officials want to get daily demand below 50 million gallons, however, and he noted lawn watering consumes an inordinate amount of water.

"It's time to stop the outdoor watering," Meeker said, citing data that shows water use jumps by 35 percent on days when homeowners are allowed to water.

Almost 300 homeowners and businesses have been fined $200 each for water violations since the restrictions were implemented. Seven homeowners and three businesses – Brier Creek Country Club, Bahama Breeze and a Bojangle's on New Bern Avenue – have been cited twice, including one on Monday, which resulted in a $1,000 fine for each.

The "Stage 1.5" restrictions, which mostly take effect next Tuesday, also would prohibit washing cars at home, but they immediately eliminated new city permits for 45 days of daily watering on newly seeded lawns. More than 970 permits have been issued since the Stage 1 restrictions went into effect, including 199 in the last week and 38 Tuesday morning.

"Some of it is homebuilders finishing a house, and they want to be able to sell it," said Ed Buchan, a water conservation specialist with Raleigh's Public Utilities Department. "They made plans long ago to establish this yard, and they spent (thousands of dollars) and they're trying to maintain it."

Several homeowners with watering permits told WRAL that they plan to curtail or halt lawn watering even though they haven't exhausted their 45-day exemptions.

The new rules, which do allow hand-held watering two days a week and pressure washing on the weekends, wouldn't affect most businesses that rely on heavy water usage, such as car washes. Meeker said the city has been reluctant to move beyond Stage 1 for fear of adversely impacting businesses.

"We're trying to do things that conserve water but don't take jobs away from people," he said. "It's going to affect some of the landscaping companies, but we're trying not to affect other companies."

The drought already has dealt a blow to some businesses, such as Logan's Trading Co., a nursery located north of downtown Raleigh.

"This September, we saw about a 30 percent decrease in sales as compared to the same month last year," Joshua Logan said. "You can pretty much kiss the lawn-watering business goodbye. I haven't watered my grass since April."

Still, Councilwoman Jessie Taliaferro questioned why the city wasn't moving ahead to Stage 2 restrictions to conserve as much as possible.

"With the long-range forecast that we have, I want to make sure we're doing everything we can to be proactive and protective," Taliaferro said. "I think we're kidding ourselves if we don't think about going to Stage 2 sooner rather than later."

The National Weather Service has been forecasting drier-than-normal weather in the coming months.

In an address to the annual conference of the North Carolina League of Municipalities, Easley said the water restrictions in place across North Carolina aren't conserving enough water. However, he stopped short of declaring a state of emergency and instead called on every community and resident statewide to cut back on their water consumption.

"A little sacrifice now can prevent a crisis and a disaster in the spring," he said.

Durham City Manager Patrick Baker on Monday issued a ban on outdoor watering that took effect Tuesday. Baker said recent restrictions put in place haven't reduced consumption as much as expected.

The Little River Reservoir and Lake Michie, the primary water sources for Durham, are 14 and 15 feet below normal levels, respectively.

Raleigh officials said they plan to continue to be aggressive in their conservation efforts.

"We're responding to conditions as they arise," Meeker said.