ABC11 Investigates

Why were Raleigh's watering restrictions lifted?

Friday, May 04, 2012

Mandatory restrictions that limit homeowners to watering on certain days of the week have been in place in Raleigh since the 2007-2008 drought.

In 2008, then Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker said: "We're not going back to 'all day, any day' watering. Rather, we're going to have permanent water conservation rules so that at all times, even when the lake is full, our community is focusing on the importance of this resource."

But Tuesday, there was a dramatic reversal. Raleigh's city council voted to lift all watering restrictions. The reason given was the water capacity is at 100 percent.

Karen Rindge of the group WakeUp Wake County wrote a letter of caution to the city council, saying she's concerned that the move had more to do with money.

"Lifting the restrictions is a short term answer," she said. "It may be okay today, but we all know that the lake is going to drop in the future."

Rindge said the city is trying to make up for lost revenue.

"The city's going to have to come up with billions of dollars to replace water and sewer pipes. It's a national problem, and they've got to find some ways to do that," she said.

Ed Buchan, with the city's water department, said Rindge is basically right.  

"We're not making as much revenue as we thought we'd have made," he said. "By way of example, we sold less water in 2011 than we did in 2010."

Buchan said revenue from water usage has taken a nose dive since conservation rules were put in place and the city does need to pull in more money to hold its utility bond rating and pay for critical projects coming due.

He explained it was either raise rates or lift the restrictions, and they went with the latter. So, the city is selling a new message now.

"Which is, when water is plentiful & then we should be able to take advantage of the resource," said Buchan.

It's a very different message from the one sold by Mayor Meeker just a few years ago, but Buchan said since then, the city has gotten a new water source: Lake Benson. And, the city has to bring in more money to keep up with growth.

"And as we've demonstrated in the past, when things get pretty dry, we can ask people to conserve in a drought situation," he offered.

That's something Rindge said she's worried about: What would happen if we have another drought like back in 07 and 08 and people have slipped back into old habits with no restrictions in place?

"We've got to be continuing to send a message to all of us as consumers that we've got to be careful with how we use our water. So, we are concerned with that message changing," she said.

Raleigh is the only Triangle city that's dropping watering restrictions. Most other municipalities continue to limit watering to certain days of the week.

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