Does Raleigh conserve like other cities?

February 16, 2008 9:00:00 PM PST
The heart of Carolina remains mired in the worst drought on record and there is still no relief in sight. Many are wondering if we are still doing enough to save water, with car washes still open and many businesses untouched by restrictions.

Eyewitness News wanted to see what other drought-stricken cites are doing that we may not be, so Rebecca Hall went to Charlotte and Atlanta find out.

Starting last spring and through the long, dry summer; "we got to the point where we were under 40 percent of available storage," Charlotte's Water Conservation Manager Maeneen Klein said.

He knew drastic measures had to be taken. By September's end, they went from voluntary restrictions to mandatory stage three; no outdoor watering at all ?no car washing, no pool filling and no exceptions. It worked, usage stopped by almost 50 percent.

It was a far different story in Raleigh ?at that same time last year, we could still water our lawns and wash car in our driveways.

Another difference between Raleigh and Charlotte, we pay a flat billing rate, they are on a tiered system.

"Our first tier is 0-11, then 11-22 and then over 22," Klein said.

The higher the tier of use, the more the water costs. Raleigh does not have the software to do that yet.

Then there is how the city handled the early forecasts; "you don't have time to develop a drought response plan in the middle of a drought, you'd better do it ahead of time," Klein said.

And they did, even bringing in citizen focus groups; "we asked them to help us prioritize water use," Klein added.

From that they realized showing graphs and charts on bills which compare monthly water use, was beneficial.

In Raleigh, Eyewitness News had to fight to get a list of the city's biggest water users. In Charlotte, it is public record.

One of the biggest water consumers is UNC Charlotte, where 23,000 students use nearly half a million gallons of water a day and where low-flow shower heads and faucets are a must and also free.

"We get those through CM Utilities ? they just give them to us, all we have to do is install them," UNC Charlotte Resident Life Director, Tom Stutts said.

In fact, Charlotte has been so pro-active, even tougher restrictions being considered this month, have been delayed.

"What that says is what measures we put into place are working," Klein said.

However, are they working in Atlanta? Five million metro residents get most of their water from Lake Lanier.

"This is the drought of history right here," Jonathan Davis with the Army Corps of Engineers said.

But even though the lake is 20 feet below normal, water has to be released into the Chattahoochee every day, or millions depending on it downriver in Alabama and Florida suffer.

"The state has an overall program, you can be either more stringent with that program or you can request variances," Watershed Management Commissioner Rob Hunter said.

Atlanta chose to be more stringent last summer. It already had odd-even watering, but like Charlotte, in September all outdoor watering --including car washing and pool filling-- was banned.

Atlanta also bills like Charlotte; "we have a tiered structure as almost all the metro areas do, but it's set specifically to encourage conservation," Hunter said.

Hartsfield Airport is the biggest water user in the city; going though nearly one million gallons a day, in the main terminal alone.

That is why the state made sure even the high efficiency toilets were recalibrated so they would not over flush.

"We're also making sure we employ a leak patrol to go around," Airport Spokesman, Herschel Grangent said.

Even the world's largest aquarium is doing its part. Visitors now use waterless urinals and low-flow faucets. And the condensation from the roof is also reused.

"All the water that's in the air is re-captured and then reused in the cooling of the building," Aquarium Spokesman, Dave Santucci said.

Georgia leaders have asked everyone, residents and businesses to cut back by at least 10 percent.

And the city of Atlanta is offering incentives to do so; "we've put a million dollars in a toilette retrofit program, giving rebates of people going in and replacing high volume toilettes with more water efficient fixtures," Hunter added.

From Atlanta, to Charlotte, to Raleigh; conservation will need to continue as the drought does.

Still as Raleigh faces even tighter water restrictions, Charlotte is holding steady and Atlanta is actually easing theirs.


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