Local News

Computer Model to Help Manage Neuse Water

Posted February 25, 2008 8:03 a.m. EST
Updated February 25, 2008 6:53 p.m. EST

— Raleigh and other cities that draw water from the Neuse River plan to develop a computer model that will help them better manage the use of water in the river.

The hydrologic model for the Neuse River basin would address the long-term management of the river, including regulatory decisions about proposed water withdrawals, planning for growth and dealing with the affects of a drought.

"It's an essential tool to do good water-resources planning," said Sydney Miller, water resources manager for the Triangle J Council of Governments.

Eighty years of data would be fed into the model so it will be able to predict water demand along different sections of the river and determine the necessary supply to meet those demand levels.

"This is a water balance model," Miller said, noting he's seen precipitation data that suggests the Neuse River basin might have been sliding into a drought as early as 2006.

Miller and other observers said the model could minimize the politics in decisions such as imposing tougher water restrictions.

Environmentalists have criticized Raleigh for not implementing Stage 2 restrictions last fall, when levels at its Falls Lake reservoir fell dramatically. The City Council implemented the restrictions on Feb. 15, banning outdoor watering and pressure-washing, closing car washes that don't recycle water and pushing for cutbacks in water use from businesses like restaurants and hotels.

Raleigh Public Utilities Director Dale Crisp said he supports developing the new system, but he isn't ready to leave all the tough decisions up to a computer.

"It doesn't take all that (politics) out. It's still ultimately a decision of elected leaders," Crisp said, noting the economic impact of water restrictions needs to be part of the assessment.

The computer model is "a tool that will be used, hopefully to provide more accurate information," he said.

Crisp said the Stage 2 rules have cut water use by about 10 percent, from about 40 million gallons a day early this month to about 36 million gallons a day at the end of last week and over the weekend.

The Army Corps of Engineers, which manages Falls Lake, also has reduced the flow of water from the lake into the Neuse River by about 9 percent, or about 3 million gallons a day. Raleigh officials have asked the Corps to cut the flow by another 45 percent.

The state Division of Water Resources will pick up $255,000 of the $350,000 cost to develop the computer model over the next 18 months. Cities that use the river basin for drinking water, – Raleigh, Durham and Wilson, among others – and industries would pay the rest, based on their water consumption.

The state already has produced similar long-range, water-use models for the Cape Fear, Catawba and Yadkin river basins.