Drought FAQ

March 5, 2008 2:54:12 PM PST
Ryan Boyles, state climatologist and director, answered questions e-mailed to ABC 11 by viewers.

Where would Rocky Mount have gotten water if Wilson had not had excess capacity from their new Buckhorn Reservoir?

There are other options for any community, but certainly Wilson's excess supply was appealing. While I'm not a water supply expert, there are other sources for emergency use, including additional intakes to rivers or additional groundwater pumping.

Why not build another dam on other streams in the area?

This is also an option, but it takes many years, even decades, the permit and construct a new dam. Then it takes even more time to building the water supply infrastructure from the new reservoir to actually treat and pump water into the municipal system. Again, this is probably a question better handled by a water resource engineer.

Why not build another dam either further upstream on the Tar River in Nash/Franklin County or downstream in Edgecombe/Pitt County?

See above - I would personally not be at all surprised if there are several new requests for water supply reservoir construction over the next few year, but it is very expensive and takes time - too long to work as a reaction to a short-term, albeit exceptional, drought.

Can the current reservoir be dredged or dug out - "a deeper hole that holds more water?" A city official said in 2002 that it was actually easier to dredge the reservoir while is was full rather than when it was empty - well now we've missed another opportunity to do this.

Again, probably better answered by a water resource engineer. But it would be very expensive to dredge and haul dirt out of the reservoir area to make it deeper. A single truck load would only contain the equivalent storage of water supply for a few people per day. And dredging but simply shifting the sediment to another location in the reservoir wouldn't add any capacity.

Can the height of the current dam be raised - which means flooding yards of "waterfront homes" that are now along the shores of the reservoir?

This is an option, and exactly what Wilson did. They raised the dam at Buckhorn reservoir, which allowed them to enlarge the water supply. But this also takes years to permit and construct.

Can desalination plants be constructed along the coast that would pipe water in-land?

Yes, and this technology is fairly well understood. But it is also very expensive, and so far has not been cost effective. And the water might have to be pumped several hundred miles uphill, adding to the cost.

While city dwellers have been on restrictions since July, why have residents at the reservoir been allowed to continue irrigating lawns with water pulled directly from the reservoir - with no restrictions in place?

This is a question for the local governments - each municipality has specific rules in place, and so they could better explain why this situation exists.

During a local civic luncheon, a City Gov't official indicated that most of these options were "too expensive", but can we really afford not to pursue these options?

Depends on how we value water and manage the risk. Many options not only require large investments of public funds, but also take years or decades to implement, and so would not in any way help with the current drought. But every community I've heard from is looking at longer-term solutions to reduce their vulnerability to future droughts.

How does any city continue to support further growth in both industry and population without a reliable long-term source of water? This isn't a "very rare" circumstance ... we just went through a similar drought in 2002 - just 5 years ago. And Rocky Mount is small compared to Raleigh and Durham -- what really happens in 90-120 days when Durham "runs out" of water? Where do 100,000+ people take showers, use toilets, etc.

This is a long-term question for many communities in NC - how to we plan for future water supplies that will allow growth. Many communities are building interconnections to surrounding municipal supplies to reduce vulnerability. And most every community that is sensitive is looking at these long term issues. But there are only a handful of viable solutions for short-term response to this drought - cut back on usage, or find additional supplies.

When our reservoirs were built, there was no dredging or digging to make them deeper ? just a flooding of local farmland. Was it really wise to build such a small reservoir with no plans for future growth? Did we really expect Rocky Mount/Raleigh/Durham/etc. to remain the same size as 20 - 40 years ago?

The water supplies were designed to handle growth, but clearly not the growth and demand increases COMBINED with the exceptional drought conditions. The drought in NC in 2007 was the worst in the modern record. See above about dredging - its very expensive for minimal benefit.


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