Most like Durham's laxer rules on water

Staff WriterApril 3, 2008 

  • The relaxed water restrictions contain a few nuances beyond just do's and don'ts. Two in particular involve pressure-washing and filling pools.

    * Stage III water restrictions that went into effect Tuesday state that new pools can't be filled. But the fine print allows an out.

    Owners of community or private pools can file for a permit that allows for a one-time filling. Call 560-4381 to obtain a permit application, or download one by going to http://durhamnc.gov/departments/wm/water_update.cfm and clicking on the Stage III Water Use License. Existing pools are allowed to use city water to top off pools.

    * Washing off driveways and patios also is restricted under Stage III. But residents are allowed to pressure-wash anything structural, such as prepping a home for painting or a deck for staining.

    Pressure-washing contractors must obtain a permit from the water management department. More than 100 already have been issued.

— Even a plant lover like David Solow is applauding Durham's slow-drip approach to easing water restrictions.

With full reservoirs, the city now is allowing outdoor watering twice a week for the first time since October.

That's fine by Solow, whose yard is a splash of spring -- tulips, daffodils, pansies and hydrangeas arranged in a neat patchwork.

"It's probably a good idea to be cautious and see how this plays out over the next couple of years," Solow, 47, said Wednesday. "If [the severe drought] is an anomaly, then the worst thing that will happen is we use less water."

City leaders worry that recent rains and relaxed restrictions will take residents out of conservation mode.

But to hear a handful of lawn lovers and even professional landscapers tell it, that worry might be unnecessary.

Maria Bowie, who lives just down Watts Street from Solow, captured the sentiments of many: "I would rather be careful than have to go back to no watering at all."

Rick King, owner of New Leaf Landscaping, said Durham reacted to the drought too slowly last year. Instead of curbing outdoor water use, the city was forced to eliminate it when reservoirs dipped to perilously low levels.

"I think it's reprehensible Durham waited as long as it did to put in restrictions," King said.

City officials say they've learned their lesson, which is why outdoor watering will be cut back to once a week if reservoirs dip below 80 percent. It will be shut off altogether if the reservoirs go below 50 percent capacity.

In the months leading up to Tuesday, when Durham ended the ban on outdoor watering, Solow learned a few lessons.

Before water restrictions went into effect, he irrigated constantly, running up a $500 water bill over a two-month span.

Now, he plans to put down more drought-resistant plants and install a cistern to collect rainwater.

Bowie, like many, has collected shower water in a bucket to water her plants, and she plans to install a rain barrel.

Part of Durham's strategy is to educate people about these kinds of water-reduction methods. A second part involves raising water rates to discourage water waste, something city leaders have signaled is almost inevitable by the summer.

"We need to instill in people the harsh reality that this is an issue that's going to be with us for a long time," said City Council member Eugene Brown.

Bowie, however, sees that as a betrayal of all the people who have gone out of their way to conserve.

"I don't think it will discourage people from using water," she said. "I just think that's going to upset them."

But Rebecca Wellborn, co-owner of Meadowsweet Gardens, which installed Solow's garden, said she worries that conservation fervor will fade without government involvement.

She supports year-round limitations on outdoor watering, something Brown and others have said might be considered.

"But this is a good start, seeing that they're not just jumping back into 'You can water anything,' " Wellborn said.

matt.dees@newsobserver.com or (919) 956-2433

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