Local News

Meeker: Limit Daily Water Use to 25 Gallons Per Person

Posted January 7, 2008 6:03 a.m. EST
Updated January 8, 2008 12:30 a.m. EST

— Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker on Monday proposed a daily water consumption limit of 25 gallons per person and a temporary 50 percent surcharge on water bills.

The daily limit and the surcharge were among seven recommendations Meeker said he would present to the Raleigh City Council on Tuesday to help conserve the city's dwindling water supply as much as possible.

"We're requesting all citizens to conserve," he said. "As a city here in Raleigh and as a region, we are going to have to use water more carefully."

Falls Lake, which serves as the city's primary reservoir, is about one-third full and has about 4.8 billion gallons of available water, compared with 14 billion to 15 billion gallons when at normal levels, Meeker said. Officials said the available water supply in the lake should last about 120 days.

"These conditions have been out in the western part of the country for decades, and now things are sort of changing for us," Meeker said. "We are going to have to address things differently and change things in the years ahead."

The average person uses 60 to 70 gallons of water daily for drinking, bathing, washing clothes and dishes and flushing toilets, according to local and national officials.

Jerry Jenkins of plumbing supply company Bradford Sales Co. said low-flow toilets like the Caroma Dual-Flush could cut water usage for a four-person family by about 3,000 gallons a year, or more than eight gallons a day. Low-flow shower heads could cut another gallon or more per minute over standard showers.

"It's not a short-term problem. It's a long-term (one), and we have a solution for the long term," Jenkins said.

The surcharge, if approved, would be implemented March 1 and would appear on May bills, Meeker said. It could be repealed when drought conditions end, he said. The extra cost is designed to encourage conservation while offsetting the decline in revenue for Raleigh's Department of Public Utilities from that conservation, he said.

"The point here is for everybody to be cutting back on their water usage," he said.

Water bills will be redesigned to tell homeowners exactly how many gallons they are using, Meeker said. Current bills are based on units of water, which translate to about 750 gallons each.

Raleigh officials would prefer to use tiered rates that scale charges according to water consumption, he said, but the city's software system can't accommodate that type of billing. The city is looking to upgrade its billing system in a couple of years to one that would allow tiered rates, he said.

Even with a surcharge, Raleigh's water rates would be comparable to those charged by other area municipalities, Meeker said.

"It's our intention to get everyone conserving so that people don't have higher water bills rather than charging higher bills and still using more water," he said.

The mayor also said all homeowners, apartment complex managers and office building landlords – including state government and universities – should install low-flow shower heads, faucet restrictors and toilet inserts by March 1. The city will work with nonprofit groups to help low-income families purchase the devices, he said.

The city also will ask builders to install such low-flow devices in new developments and to install outdoor irrigation systems that don't tap into the drinking water supply, he said.

"We need to change our practices in this community so that drinking water is used for drinking and not for irrigation," he said.

Developers haven't yet reviewed Meeker's proposals, but they realize some action needs to be done to head off building limits, said Tim Minton, executive vice president of the Home Builders Association of Raleigh-Wake County.

"We do recognize that we're in dire straits now, and that means we have to tighten our belts like everyone else," Minton said. "What the Home Builders (Association) members are more concerned with is that you won't be able to build. If you can't build a house, landscaping is not an issue."

The association plans to launch a "green council" in the coming weeks to encourage developers to use more sustainable techniques in design and construction, he said.

Meeker said the 140,000 customers on Raleigh's water system should purchase rain barrels or other devices to have water for outdoor irrigation this year. The ban on outdoor watering will likely remain in place for the foreseeable future, he said.

"If the dry conditions persist – I don't know if they'll persist one month or one year – we're not going to have drinking water available for lawn watering," he said.

Raleigh officials plan to meet with the Army Corps of Engineers, which manages Falls Lake, to see how far discharges into the Neuse River from the lake can be cut without harming the river quality or endangering downstream water systems.

Finally, Meeker said he would ask the mayors of Garner, Knightdale, Rolesville, Wake Forest, Wendell and Zebulon to enact similar proposals. The six towns purchase water from Raleigh.