Lake water off-limits for lawns

LAKE WYLIE -- As water restrictions rise and lake levels fall, authorities are now crimping the water supply many Lake Wylie residents use for irrigation.

Duke Energy officials on Friday requested all Lake Wylie residents suspend their use of lake water as a source for irrigation. It's just one more step to conserve water as rainfall chances in the near future remain bleak.

Duke's request likely effects hundreds of lake residents who use small, electric pumps to draw water from the lake for irrigating lawns and gardens. The irrigation systems are often built by putting a piece of pipe in the water and attaching it to a pump on shore. Hoses and other pipes can then distribute the water to flower beds. It's a free source of water for lake residents.

But Mary Katherine Green, a Duke spokeswoman, said it's time for those pumps to shut down. Though Duke doesn't know how many people use pumps for irrigation, because most aren't registered, the company believes its enough that stopping the flow might make a difference.

"Every little bit helps," Green said.

Though warnings and fines are unlikely, Green said residents need to weigh the greater consequences. "Is it going to be drinking water or green grass?" she said. "This is serious."

Lake levels this week are more than 2 feet below normal and 5 feet below full pond, the lowest levels since a five-year drought from 1998 to 2002. Green said Duke officials monitor boat landings daily and will close access if the water becomes too shallow. Mecklenburg County officials on Thursday closed all boat ramps at Copperhead Island.

Duke's new rule follows mandatory water restrictions put in place all over York County on Friday. Rock Hill water officials said car washing, outdoor building washing and lawn watering during the day is all off limits. Lawns can be watered only twice a week, between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. The rules apply to Rock Hill and all wholesale customers, including Fort Mill, York, Tega Cay, York County and Carolina Water customers in Lake Wylie.

Clover and Chester have voluntary conservation measures.

Restrictions probably aren't going away anytime soon. Justin Lane, a forecaster for the National Weather Service, said the chance of rain this weekend is less than 20 percent, with high temperatures expected to reach the mid-90s.

"It basically looks like no chance of rain for the next few days," Lane said, adding the next two months are typically the driest of the year. "This sounds like a crazy thing to hope for, but we're going to have to have a tropical system to get us out of this drought."

So does that mean Hurricane Dean, swirling in the Atlantic, may offer an ironic glimmer of hope?

Nope. "It's not looking like a possibility at this point," Lane said. "It would have to go all the way into the western part of the Gulf (of Mexico), and then turn sharply north. That's highly unlikely."