DURHAM — Addressing an unprecedented drought will be the main challenge of 2008 for the Durham City Council, several members said at Monday's swearing-in ceremony.
Both Mayor Bill Bell and council member Eugene Brown, who began fresh terms along with Farad Ali and Diane Catotti, stressed the need for a comprehensive plan to find new water and conserve existing sources.
"By nature, I am not an alarmist," Brown said after taking the oath for his second term. "But as a recently re-elected council member, I believe it is time to sound the alarm and to act."
Durham is down to 52 days in its "premium" water supply. The city is working to tap other sources, such as Jordan Lake and a local quarry, but that will cost money.
Officials estimate it will cost $49 million over the next two years to connect to the new sources. That's money they had planned to spend several years down the road, but the severity of the drought has them expediting the schedule.
Both Bell and Brown said the city hasn't treated past droughts as seriously as they should have.
Brown noted an expert who told the council recently that the region really has been in a drought since 1998, but two large hurricanes during that span lessened the effect until now.
Bell said conservation must become "the rule rather than the exception," and Brown called for harsher penalties for violators.
"We have relied probably too much on our past experiences in guiding our actions and reactions to this problem," said Bell, who began his fourth term.
Bell said the council would begin discussions of a comprehensive water plan at its work session Thursday at 1 p.m. at City Hall.
Also Monday, Ali took his seat for the first time. He claimed the chair vacated by Thomas Stith III in Stith's unsuccessful bid for mayor.
"I hope during this term I'm able to bring the passion of love to service, " Ali said. "In that time I ask that if I fall, you help me up and don't run over me. Show me some love."
Catotti, the lead vote-getter in securing a second term, kept her remarks brief: "I promise to work hard. That's it."
Stith was honored for his eight years on council.
Bell presented him with a plaque and tried to strike a conciliatory tone after a hard-fought campaign that saw both men take shots at the other's integrity and leadership abilities.
"We may exchange some words and try to make our arguments," Bell said. "But once it's over, it's over, and we move on."
Stith's speech also was free of rancor, but he couldn't resist one last plea for the council to focus on fighting crime more aggressively -- a final echo of his most pervasive campaign theme.
He reminded them there had been another teenager shot since Election Day.
"The messenger is gone," Stith said. "Let's focus on the message now."
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