Raleigh’s water conservation efforts paid off spectacularly

November 29, 2013 

It might have been almost a footnote, the news that the City of Raleigh was ending a program to give people $100 to purchase more efficient and water-saving toilets in the name of conservation. Four years and $1.2 million after the program – among several conservation programs in the Triangle – began in the drought of 2007-2008,it has been proclaimed a huge success.

But that’s not all. The bottom line is that Triangle residents didn’t just purchase more efficient gear. They pitched in and took shorter showers, used less water on their lawns even after the drought broke and followed common-sense ideas about conservation even after tropical storms filled reservoirs in 2008.

As a result, Raleigh’s environmental coordinator Ed Buchan says demand for water is falling in the city. Summer and fall can see reservoirs drop, and alarms would still go off if those levels were too low in spring and winter. But the city has a better drought plan now and anticipates that it will handle future water shortages in a more efficient way. In addition, water use appears to have been reduced because of the economic downturn.

All this is good news on the conservation front, but it’s smart news as well, given the area’s anticipated and ongoing growth. Raleigh and other communities in the Triangle don’t need to be living from crisis to crisis, and they don’t need to be cutting on the sprinklers to celebrate the end of a drought. Conservation is good for the community, for the environment and for the future in terms of neighborhood development.

Low-flow toilets, which some homeowners resisted for years – even going so far as to have them “fixed” on the sly by friendly plumbers – now are commonplace. No, they might not deliver the punch of the old ones that used twice the water or more to get the job done and had that deep woosh sound that seemed nearly to pull all the fixtures out of the room. But they are adequate and great for preserving those reservoirs.

The good habits of conservation will be mightily important as development continues and the strain on Falls Lake, among other drinking water sources, increases.

This has been called the “me” age, when people seemed concerned primarily about what’s going on inside their property lines and about what’s being done for them to make their lives better and easier. Their fellow humans? Nobody cares, it is said by some.

We offer as evidence to the contrary a conservation program that worked, that enlisted vast numbers of average citizens, that made true believers and, lo and behold, conservationists out of people who perhaps had never given the idea much thought. But as they enlisted, as they watched the water they used washing dishes or washing themselves in the shower, they felt good about it. They felt like they were doing something, helping.

And so, when one is tempted to give up on humankind altogether (watching everyone walking around texting on their phones, holding up traffic on a two-lane while talking to a neighbor, cutting off people in traffic and, in short, performing those annoyances that can convince us there is no hope left for the world), take heart. Think about the time that good neighbors in the Capital City actually showed that they cared about one another.

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