Leaders to use computers to aid in drought

February 25, 2008 5:58:43 PM PST
As Falls Lake's level dips even lower, responses to the current drought include cut backs and conservation.

In future droughts, the first line of defense may well be computers.

That's what several local water managers discussed Monday morning at the Archdale Building in downtown Raleigh. The idea is to create a hydrologic computer model which will be a useful tool in predicting and responding to future droughts.

"This is something that's going to mean a lot for their children and grandchildren (of current water customers)," said Sydney Miller with the Triangle J Council of Governments. "When we want to look out 30 years or 50 years, this is the tool that we use."

Governments and industries who use water in the Neuse River basin, which begins north of Raleigh and goes all the way to New Bern, would contribute at least eighty-years worth of water data into the hydrologic model.

"You need the most accurate data you can get and that's been a problem, frankly, with trying to account for where all the water goes once it leaves the lake," Raleigh Public Utilities Director Dale Crisp.

The model would help better grasp the true balance of water. Some liken it to balancing a checkbook. Most used to do that manually, which could be slow, tedious and plagued with human errors. In the checking account analogy, a hydrologic model plays the role of online banking. It's faster, more cohesive and usually error-free.

"What this model will do is kinda bring us up to 2008," said Crisp.

That would include the abilty to set triggers in appropriate ways -- like allowing the computer model dictate when to move into a certain level of watering restrictions.

Sydney Miller with the Triangle J Council of Governments thinks that would have been helpful in the current drought.

"You could've had a better plan in place which taken the political pressure off of how you make a decision and who makes the decision," Miller said.

A model has already been made for the Cape Fear River basin, which includes Jordan Lake. Miller said it has been very helpful.

The cost of the Neuse River Basin hydrologic model would be about $350,000. The state's Department of Environment and Natural Resources would pay $255,000. A couple of businesses might pick up $10,000 or so. The various municipalities that draw off the Neuse River would have to pick up the remaining $85,000 tab.


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