Local News

Drought Could Impact Business Growth, State Fair

Posted February 13, 2008 5:44 p.m. EST
Updated February 13, 2008 9:06 p.m. EST

— As the drought slowly tightens its grip on North Carolina, state officials worry about its impact on the economy.

The slow pace of the disaster makes it difficult to gauge the overall economic impact, state Commerce Secretary Jim Fain said.

"At this point, we have not seen any impact in terms of our recruiting activities, but the fact is (that) the drought's a serious matter," Fain said.

Businesses in the tourism industry are preparing for drought-related losses, officials said.

"From the restaurant community, if they have to start serving on paper plates, then there is a service issue there," said Dennis Edwards, president and chief executive of the Greater Raleigh Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Requiring restaurants to use disposable plates has been discussed as a way cut down on dish-washing.

On Friday, Raleigh will implement Stage 2 water-use rules. Among other things, the rules will ban outdoor watering in the city and six Wake County towns that are part of the municipal water system.

State Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said the regulations will change the way the State Fairgrounds operates for animal shows and the annual State Fair in October.

"We're going to be under some mandatory restrictions here at the fairgrounds," Troxler said. "The horse shows may be adversely affected, and if we were to have shortages going into the State Fair, that would affect us."

Drinking water could not be used to hose down animal areas at the fair, for example.

The Triangle received a little over an inch of rain late Tuesday and Wednesday, but Falls Lake, Raleigh's primary reservoir, remains about 8½ feet below normal.

"Clearly, we're not getting the rain that we'd like to have. We're not refilling our basins, and that's an issue," said Gov. Mike Easley, who added that conservation efforts need to be stepped up and expanded.

"I am getting increasingly concerned about conservation, and we're not doing enough of it," he said.

The mayors of all the seven municipalities on Raleigh's water system have signed a letter that will be sent to area water customers on Friday. The letter details Stage 2 regulations and urges people to install low-flow devices on their faucets, showers and toilets and suggests they purchase a rain barrel to collect water for outdoor uses.

Easley has asked municipal water systems to interconnect their systems. Raleigh officials have started to talk with Cary about buying water from Jordan Lake, a source that Durham also uses.

"When you look at how many days are left in some of these reservoirs, it's scary," Troxler said.