Local News

Recycled water could keep new homes flowing in drought

Posted January 28, 2008 3:27 p.m. EST
Updated April 30, 2008 6:26 p.m. EDT

— Developers would use treated wastewater to prepare new home sites if the ongoing drought forces Raleigh to impose tougher restrictions on water use, according to a proposal made to city officials Monday.

The Home Builders Association of Raleigh-Wake County devised a list of conservation measures developers could undertake to ensure home construction wouldn't grind to a halt if the city adopts Stage 2 water limits to conserve its dwindling supply of drinking water.

The Stage 2 restrictions, which could be implemented as early as next week, would prevent developers from flushing water lines in new neighborhoods. Flushing the lines is a required step for buildings to get certificates of occupancy, without which they cannot be used.

Fifteen builders brainstormed for ideas to prevent the tap from being turned off on home construction and came up with the following recommendations:

  • Capture drinking water used to flush water lines and truck it back to Falls Lake, Raleigh's primary reservoir, or the city water treatment plant.
  • Use treated wastewater to flush sewer lines, control dust, clean streets in new developments, pressure-wash new homes, set the stone base for paving and compacting soil.
  • Encourage builders to install water-saving devices inside homes and rain barrels outside whenever possible.

The steps would save an average of about 2,100 gallons per lot, the panel said. Developers also would pick up the estimated $750 cost of trucking water back to Falls Lake or the water treatment plant and bringing in treated wastewater.

The panel also recommended that Raleigh hold off installing water meters for outdoor irrigation until drought conditions ease, although developers could continue to install irrigation systems at new homes. The city also should provide developers with waivers of landscaping requirements, such as the time frame for grass to germinate to control erosion, the builders' panel said.

Mayor Charles Meeker said the proposals are a good start, but don't go far enough. He said, for example, that he would like to see drinking water phased out of irrigation uses in all new construction.

Raleigh officials are in the midst of planning a system that would pump treated wastewater back to portions of the city for uses like outdoor water and street cleaning, but the system wouldn't begin operating for at least two years.

"The bottom line is we are going to have to look at water differently, in the way that some of the Western states have. Use it for the things that are really important and not waste it on things that are not as important," Meeker said.

Home builders association Executive Vice President Tim Minton said new homes use a small percentage of the city's water, and he predicted Meeker's proposal would bring a negative reaction from home buyers.

"We would love to be in a situation where we could use reclaimed water (for irrigation)," Minton said. "But there's not an infrastructure in place right now to do that."

Still, some in the industry said changing the rules could become necessary.

"Nobody wants it to get to that point, but if we don't get the water, then we have to have the water to live off of," said Chad Ray, of Olde Heritage Builders. "I think anyone would say, 'As long as I have water to drink, then I can do without watering my lawn.'"