Local News

Landscapers Cry Foul as Raleigh Tightens Taps

Posted February 5, 2008 9:19 a.m. EST
Updated February 5, 2008 7:55 p.m. EST

— More than 200 people from the landscaping industry protested Tuesday as the City Council voted unanimously to move to Stage 2 water restrictions on Feb. 15.

Carrying "Save Our Jobs" signs, the members of the landscaping industry said the tougher rules on water use would harm their businesses.

"We're already putting layoff's on the employees. We're looking at closing the doors," landscaper William Hanner said.

"I grow wholesale for landscapers. (The new rules) could shut us down, totally shut us down," nursery owner Phil Campbell said.

Councilman Phillip Isley acknowledged the economic impact as he joined his colleagues in voting for the Stage 2 restrictions.

"We're putting people out of business. People are losing jobs," Isley said, urging the council to set a date when the city will be able to relax water regulations.

The increased restrictions ban all outdoor watering and pressure-washing. An estimated 60 percent of car washes in Raleigh will have to close because they don't meet standards for recycling water, and swimming pools that aren't currently filled will remain empty.

Raleigh water customers in Garner, Knightdale, Rolesville, Wake Forest, Wendell and Zebulon also will have to comply with the new rules.

"You're kind of going to have to let the landscape fend for itself," said Ed Buchan, a water conservation specialist for Raleigh's Public Utilities Department.

The city banned all sprinkling in October, which Buchan said helped cut daily water demand by about a third. The Stage 2 restrictions aren't expected to produce nearly those results, which prompted criticism from the landscapers at the City Council meeting.

"It would be fine if there were cutbacks in other industries, but to come after the 'green industry' and power-washing is (saving) minimum water," farmer Doug Kowalczyk said.

"Mandatory restrictions on our industry when everyone else is voluntary for major industrial users, universities and other large consumers doesn't seem like an equitable way to take care of the situation," nursery employee Mike Blanton said.

Stage 2 restrictions would have automatically come into effect if Raleigh's water supply dipped to 90 days, but with the supply in Falls Lake predicted to last until mid-May, Mayor Charles Meeker said he decided to push for tighter restrictions sooner.

"The very basic way of looking at it is (that) every gallon we save is a gallon we have when it's hot," Meeker said. "One can certainly look back and say we should have done this a month or two or three or four ago, and you may be right. You may not be, but I think it's time to do it now, regardless."

Home builders received an exemption from the Stage 2 rules, which would have prevented them from flushing new water lines to test for bacteria. The City Council voted to allow them to continue flushing lines, as long as they capture the water so it can be retreated and used again.

Meeker pushed for the changes, even while acknowledging the economic cost might prove to be unpopular.

"This is not only going to inconvenience some people; it's going to affect them economically," he said.

Stage 2 restrictions will also:

  • require that leaks be repaired within 24 hours of notice from the city
  • ban use of water-cooled air conditioners that do not recycle water
  • order businesses to review their water usage and implement conservation plans appropriate for their industries
  • require that innkeepers ask guests to use their towels and linens more than once before laundering
  • prohibit restaurants from serving water, except by request
  • ban all non-essential use of water for commercial or public use

Buchan said even tougher restrictions might be in the works. Potential Stage 3 rules might include asking restaurants to use disposable plates and seeking more cutbacks from businesses.

Also Tuesday, City Council members received an update on the conservation efforts of major water users.

North Carolina State University; city, county and state government offices and several businesses have eliminated outdoor irrigation, stopped washing vehicles, cut back hours of operation, plugged leaks and adjusted processes to save millions of gallons of water each week, officials said. Some of the major users also expressed interest in tapping into a proposed city system to recycle treated wastewater for irrigation, air conditioning and other outdoor uses.