Local News

Raleigh Looks to Lake Sediment, Cary for Water

Posted December 12, 2007 6:18 p.m. EST
Updated December 13, 2007 5:52 a.m. EST

— With tougher water restrictions in Raleigh a week away and Durham preparing to tap an abandoned quarry to extend its dwindling water supply, public utilities officials gathered Wednesday to discuss options for dealing with the ongoing drought.

Falls Lake, Raleigh's primary reservoir, has about 96 days of water left, and the city is prepared to enact Stage 2 water restrictions once that supply reaches 90 days.

The tighter limits would ban outdoor watering and pressure-washing, close local car washes that don't use recycled water and encourage restaurant diners and hotel guests to conserve water by drinking other beverages and reusing linens. After a two-week grace period, first-time violators would face a $1,000 fine, and subsequent violations could result in the cancellation of water service.

Raleigh officials are looking at emergency measures to increase its water supply, such as tapping the muddy sediment at the bottom of Falls Lake.

"We've already done some samples at those levels, (and) we know it can be treated," said Dale Crisp, director of the city's Department of Public Utilities. "Surprisingly, it's not as bad as we thought it was going to be."

The sediment pool could contain up to 90 days' worth of water, officials said, but it's unclear how much of that would need to be pumped past the Falls Lake dam into the Neuse River for use by communities downstream.

The city also has discussed buying water from Cary, a solution that would require a bit of engineering. Cary pulls its water from Jordan Lake and has enough capacity to last another year.

"Our infrastructure is not set up for the water to come to us. It's set up to send it to other systems," Crisp said. "(This) is something that Raleigh has never done before."

Reworking the pipes to make it a two-way system could be an expensive proposition, officials said, adding that it might not be worth the effort.

Raleigh would be able to buy about 2 million gallons a day from Cary, about 5 percent of its average daily consumption.

Durham already buys about 1.8 million gallons a day from Cary and is considering doubling that amount. The city also will soon tap Teer Quarry to extend its water supply by about 25 days.

At a Wednesday meeting, public utilities directors from Chatham County, Chapel Hill-Carrboro, Hillsborough, Durham, Cary and Raleigh also discussed the need for better communication.

One way would be a common list of water restrictions, so Stage 1 and Stage 2 mean the same thing to everyone.

"(Communities now) can have 20 stages or two stages," said Vicky Westbrook, compliance officer for Durham Water Management. "At least if they say we have an outdoor water ban, then everyone knows what that means across the region."

Officials also discussed the need for public pleas for water conservation to continue. They plan to take their request to Gov. Mike Easley's office.

"More often and more frequent messaging (should be) coming out, reminding Durham's customers, Raleigh's customers, statewide that the drought is ongoing."