Local News

Durham Eyes Surcharge to Boost Water Conservation

Posted December 17, 2007 6:04 a.m. EST
Updated December 18, 2007 9:57 a.m. EST

— As crews began tapping an abandoned quarry Monday to deliver more water to the city's shrinking supply, one Durham official called for a 10 percent surcharge on local water bills to help pay for the costs of the ongoing drought.

City Councilman Eugene Brown said water is too cheap in Durham – the city charges about 1 cent for five gallons – and the added fee could help encourage conservation.

Durham has about 39 days of premium water left in its two main reservoirs, Lake Michie and the Little River Reservoir, officials said. The city has banned outdoor watering and has asked all customers to cut water consumption by 50 percent.

Despite heavy rain late Saturday, Lake Michie was 18 feet below full and the Little River Reservoir was down about 27 feet on Monday.

The city began work Monday to install pumps at Teer Quarry in north Durham to tap into the 600 million gallons of water it contains. The quarry should extend Durham's water supply by about 25 days, officials said, and quarry water should start flowing into the system after Christmas.

But the move comes at a hefty cost. Renting pumps and related equipment will cost about $25,000 a month. Construction costs to install them will be about $100,000, according to Donald Greeley, deputy director of Durham Water Management.

Brown said his proposed surcharge also would help offset the cost of obtaining extra water during the drought. In January, for example, Durham will double its intake from Jordan Lake, to more than 3.5 million gallons a day. The city was also considering buying water from Orange County.

"This will be part of our operating costs. So, the obvious question is, where is all this money going to come from?" Brown said, adding he expects the idea to be debated at the next council work session before it is placed on the agenda for a vote.

Meanwhile on Monday night, the City Council voted, 6-1, to extend water and sewer lines to a proposed subdivision near the Streets at Southpoint mall. Councilwoman Diane Cototti was the only one to vote against the extension.

The City Council had recently delayed a vote on the project when Mayor Bill Bell said existing residents should receive priority to the dwindling water supply.

City staff members reported on how the drought could impact development projects that are already in the city approval process.

Unlike Durham, the weekend rains added four to five days of drinking water to Falls Lake, Raleigh's primary reservoir.

Ed Buchan, a water conservation specialist with Raleigh's Department of Public Utilities, said the city has 96 days of water in the lake, meaning Stage 2 restrictions likely would not be adopted before next week.