Local News

Orange H2O Customers Get Tighter Rules, Higher Fees

Posted February 28, 2008 11:04 p.m. EST
Updated February 29, 2008 5:40 p.m. EST

— Orange Water and Sewer Authority officials voted unanimously Thursday to tighten water restrictions and implement surcharges on both residential and commercial customers.

Officials declared a Stage 3 Water Shortage, effective from March 1. OWASA is urging residential customers to voluntarily reduce their daily usage to no more than 35 gallons per person, while commercial and business customers are being asked to cut their usage to 20 percent of their pre-drought consumption levels.

OWASA officials said they expect water rate surcharges and increases to encourage customers to meet those goals.

A 125 percent surcharge will be applied to any residential customer that uses 3,000 or more gallons in any billing period. That surcharge goes up the more water a customer uses.

Peak rates for non-residential customers will go into effect early. A 125 percent water surcharge will also be added to commercial and business customers' bills.

All the rate increases and surcharges go into effect March 17.

As of Tuesday, OWASA said, its supply in the Cane Creek Reservoir and University Lake was 40 percent full, creating a five-month supply at the current rate of demand of 9 million gallons per day. If daily usage drops to about 7 million, that supply will extend out to slightly more than six months.

Ed Kerwin, OWASA executive director, said the system has never been this low at the end of February – normally a high-level time – since OWASA began keeping detailed records in 1980.

Demand from all users in December 2007 and January 2008 dropped an average of 10 percent from the same period a two-month period a year ago.

Single-family residences cut demand by 14.2 percent, commercial customers by 9.7 percent, and multifamily customers by 4.7 percent. The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill – OWASA's single largest water customer – cuts its usage by 5 percent during that period.

Landscapers, cleaning businesses and others that use large amounts of water can get reclaimed water in bulk at OWASA's Mason Farm Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Users can pick up 250 gallons at a time for irrigation, decoration and other non-drinking uses. They must attend a mandatory one-time training class given by OWASA staff.

If the water supply rises to 60 percent of capacity by April 1, OWASA will consider downgrading to Stage 2 restrictions. If water supply reaches more than 70 percent, officials might drop back to Stage 1.

OWASA serves 80,000 customers in Chapel Hill and Carrboro.