Sep 21, 2007

Durham Residents, Businesses Brace for Water Restrictions

Durham residents and businesses are bracing for mandatory water restrictions that take effect on Friday. Repeat offenders of the restrictions, which limit lawn watering among a variety of other things, could see their water cut off.

Without conservation measures or rain relief, Durham has 76 days -- including today -- until the water supply will run out in early December, based on recent, non-restricted use averages, according to the city's Department of Water Management.

The reservoirs from which the city draws its water, Little River Reservoir and Lake Michie, are 12 feet and 14 feet below normal levels, according to charts posted on the Water Management Department's Web site.

"Seeing how many days are left, it does seem that it's better to be safe than sorry," said John Schelp, president of the Old West Durham Neighborhood Association. "Asking people not to water their lawns or wash their cars as often seems to me a reasonable request."

The fall months here are historically the driest of the year, said Interim Water Management Director Vicki Westbrook, making it an uncertain whether Durham will get enough rainfall to relieve the drought in the coming months.

Friday's rains barely made a dent in water levels, she said. Dry farm ponds and land thirsting for water soaked up most of it. Less than an inch flowed into reservoirs.

"People need to re-evaluate how important having potable drinking water is," Westbrook said. "Is it more important for them to have a green lawn or more important to brush their teeth and take a shower?"

Most water use in Durham is by residential customers, some 60 percent of consumption. The biggest individual customers are major companies in the area, such as GlaxoSmithKline and Cree, Inc.