Water curbs put in place

Durham, Chatham get tough on usage

Staff WritersNovember 4, 2005 

In the heart of a parched pocket of the Piedmont experiencing severe drought, officials in the city of Durham and Chatham County enacted mandatory water restrictions Thursday.

The rules, which include curbs on watering lawns and washing cars, take effect Monday in Durham. Little more than two months' worth of water is left in the city's reservoirs.

"It is critical that our customers follow these mandatory restrictions to ensure that there is an adequate water supply for all," City Manager Patrick Baker said in a news release.

Durham enacted voluntary restrictions Sept. 28 but saw no significant decline in water use. The mandatory limits are aimed at decreasing the residential demand for water as much as 20 percent. Industrial users of the public water system will be asked to work with the city to cut their consumption by 30 percent.

At the city's current rate of consumption, Durham's water reserves could be exhausted within 72 days if there is no significant rain, officials said.

Residents who do not adhere to the restrictions will get written warnings. If a violator fails to come into compliance a second time, the city could cut off water service to the home.

Climatologists are predicting that the abnormally dry conditions affecting two-thirds of North Carolina could persist into the winter. The growing drought is the worst in the state since a record-breaking dry spell in 2002.

Gov. Mike Easley issued a statement Thursday asking residents to take immediate steps to conserve water. At his direction, state agencies are moving to curb nonessential water use at their facilities. Raleigh enacted mandatory water restrictions Tuesday, along with six Wake County towns that rely on the city for water. Cary already limits water use year-round.

Jordan Lake, the water source for northern Chatham County, is about 4 feet below normal. Siler City's water supply, in the county's southwest, is faring even worse.

"We're seeing parts of the lake we haven't seen since the last drought," said Will Baker, Chatham's utilities director.

Officials there are asking residents to limit showers to four minutes, and use disposable dishes and dinnerware, even though they generate more trash. Chatham is imposing fines -- $50 for a first offense and $100 for subsequent violations -- as well as the potential termination of water service for repeat offenders.

Durham's main reservoirs, Little River Lake and Lake Michie, appeared to have more mud and sand than water Thursday. Both lakes have been closed to recreational boating and fishing because of the dry conditions.

Little River Lake is nearly 20 feet below full, with a dark line indicating the normal water line circling the shore like the ring on an old bathtub. At Lake Michie, which is about 12 feet below full, a sign warning against swimming is nailed to a tree now more than 100 yards from the water.

The Duke University Women's Crew team, which uses Michie as its practice facility, was preparing to leave Thursday for a regatta in Tennessee. Jim Lister, an assistant coach, said the She-Devils were having to slog their long, thin boats through shin-deep mud to reach enough water to turn laps.

"People in Durham need to quit watering their lawns," he said.

Are Raleigh's new fines for water violations too strict? Not strict enough? Go to this story at newsobserver.com to tell us what you think and to share your tips for dealing with Wake County's new water restrictions.

Staff writer Michael Biesecker can be reached at 956-2421 or mbieseck@newsobserver.com.

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