Easley: Be 'Patriotic,' Conserve Water
Saying it was everyone's "patriotic duty" to conserve water in the face of the worst drought in North Carolina history, Gov. Mike Easley on Thursday called for water systems statewide to implement tiered water pricing for excessive water use.
Speaking at an emergency meeting of the state Drought Management Advisory Council, Easley said conservation efforts slacked off in November after consumers made a concerted effort in September and October to reduce consumption. Water use was down 30 percent in the first two months and slipped to 26.8 percent in November.
"This is really a manageable problem. It's not that difficult if everyone chips in," he said. "We have to get back to that 30 percent reduction."
Systems with the lowest remaining supplies of drinking water, including Raleigh and Durham, should try to cut their consumption by 40 percent, he said.
Eighty-seven of the state's 100 counties are experiencing exceptional or extreme drought conditions, the two worst categories monitored by the state drought council. Heavy rains last weekend didn't improve conditions in any county.
Easley outlined a few steps to continue pushing water conservation, including asking all water systems to adopt pricing structures that would charge people more for using excessive amounts of water.
"The price of that additional water should cost significantly more than the minimum amount that people need to get by," he said. "I hope people will understand that they have to conserve, and the water bill will certainly be one more reminder that it has to be done."
A Jan. 14 meeting has been scheduled for Greensboro for 30 water systems in the direst straits, including Raleigh and Durham, he said. Officials with the state Department of Crime Control and Public Safety and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources will talk with system managers about connecting to other water sources, plugging leaks in their systems that cost millions of gallons a day and putting emergency plans in place.
Emergency measures like water shut-offs need to be handled at the local level, the governor said, calling statewide emergency powers impractical in this situation. Shutting down entire water systems for using too much water could endanger lives and property and would consume a tremendous amount of water to flush the pipes when the system was turned back on, he said.
Durham has about a month and a half of premium water left. Crews started pumping water from the Teer Quarry this week to extend the water supply by about a month.
Falls Lake in Raleigh is drying up at a rapid rate. City officials are considering buying water from Cary and treating the sediment in the lake to use for home consumption.
Easley said he's satisfied with the response of local officials to the drought, but he said more can be done to ensure the drought doesn't start to drag down the state economy.
"If we as citizens don't conserve, we jeopardize industry being able to continue, which jeopardizes jobs, and that hurts families," he said, calling on parents to tell children of sacrifices made by previous generations of Americans.
State leaders met last week to discuss water reclamation and reuse, water-efficient designs and drought-tolerant plants in an effort to improve water management.
"We're going to be judged as a state nationally and internationally ... on how well we manage this problem," he said.