Midtown Raleigh News

Raleigh lifts restrictions on watering lawns

With healthy supplies of water lapping at the shores of Falls Lake and Lake Benson, the Raleigh City Council on Tuesday lifted a drought rule that had required residents to water lawns on alternating days.

Utility officials do not expect the change to have a significant impact on watering habits.

Whether it’s because of persistent calls to conserve or a new tiered water rate that charges more for high-volume usage, Raleigh customers are more judicious in how long they run their spigots.

Average consumption systemwide dropped from 52 million gallons per day in 2007 to 51 million last year, despite Raleigh adding more than 30,000 new residents in that period.

“We went through a lot in the past four years to really educate the public that water is a limited resource,” said Mayor Nancy McFarlane. “Everyone, as we can see by their behavior, accepts that.”

Under the alternating-day system, even-numbered addresses were limited to Wednesday, Friday and Sunday and odd-numbered addresses to Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

Raleigh imposed the guidelines in July 2007 just before a drought that strained water supplies across the Southeast. Much of central North Carolina remains in a moderate drought, and stream flows in some areas are described as exceptionally low.

But utility officials say that based on the levels of Raleigh’s lakes and projections for rain amounts over the next six months, easing irrigation rules will not threaten the water supply, at least for the remainder of the year.

Falls Lake and Lake Benson, the sources of the city’s drinking water, are each 100 percent full, according to recent city estimates.

Councilman John Odom asked city officials last month to consider the change.

Alternating-day requirements make it difficult to program automatic sprinklers. Plus, the city had to devote staff time to issue special permits for newly planted landscaping areas that need daily watering.

“I don’t see it (the change) as a revenue generator,” said City Councilman Thomas Crowder. “It’s more of a convenience issue for citizens to be able to water on which days they want.”

Finding a balance

Raleigh has wrestled over how to balance conservation with the need to bring in sufficient water revenues to maintain the utility system.

The city’s conservation efforts have been so successful that additional rate increases have been necessary to cover fixed costs. Water and sewer rates each rose by 9 percent last year and are projected to go up by another 7 percent this year.

Meanwhile, communities that buy water from Raleigh have struggled to pay off their merger-related expenses.

Other towns are evaluating their own changes. Wake Forest, in response to the drought, barred the use of potable water for outdoor watering but is now studying whether to lift the policy.