Mandatory restrictions on residential water use will be put in place today to combat worsening drought conditions, meaning lawn watering, car washing and backyard water wars may soon be screeching to a halt.
City of Rock Hill officials will announce required cutbacks at a 3 p.m. press conference today, officials announced Wednesday. Mandatory restrictions were in place for a few days earlier this month during water treatment plant repairs. But the last time a drought forced mandatory cutbacks was in 2002.
Several area cities have asked customers to voluntarily conserve water all summer. But the new restrictions will likely impact residents across York County because Rock Hill supplies water to the municipalities of York, Fort Mill and Tega Cay and the communities of northern and western York County.
Mary Katherine Green, a Duke Energy spokeswoman, said the Catawba River Basin, which includes York, Chester and Lancaster counties, is in a Stage 1 drought, with worsening conditions likely unless rain falls.
"When it gets to Stage 1 or 2, it's time to start talking cutbacks," she said.
Details of the restrictions were not available Wednesday, but past water-saving measures at drought Stage 1 or 2 usually limited lawn watering to twice a week. At Stage 3, watering is cut to once a week and car washing and filling swimming pools is prohibited. At Stage 4, only bare-bones water usage is allowed. Violators could face fines if the restrictions aren't followed.
Lake Wylie, managed by Duke Energy and the main source of water for York County, is more than 2 feet below normal for this time of year and 5 feet below full pond, Green said. She said the lake levels aren't as low as 2002, when a multiyear drought reached its peak, but "without rain, we could head in that direction."
Green said the current conditions are caused by lack of rainfall and hotter-than-normal temperatures that speed up evaporation. Temperatures on Wednesday flirted with the 100-degree mark, and a high near 100 is expected today. There is a 30 percent chance of a thunderstorm Friday, but a dry weekend is expected, according to the National Weather Service.
Green said residents should use water sparingly by limiting lawn watering, taking shorter showers and washing cars at commercial car washes that recycle water.
"We certainly want to do all we can to conserve water," she said. "It takes everyone doing a little part."
In addition to putting a crunch on residential water use, Green said the lake levels put Duke Energy, the Carolinas' leading electricity provider, in a pickle, too. She said the hydroelectric station on Lake Wylie is used to quickly generate power at peak times of the day. But low water levels combined with a heat wave sparking a record demand for energy puts the company in a precarious position.
"It's like a balancing act," she said. "We're doing our part to conserve water (by reducing use of the hydro stations) and at the same time still serving our customers."
The drought also is impacting boaters on the lake.
Green said boat ramps are being monitored closely as water recedes from the safe area around docks. "If it gets any lower, we might have to start closing them down," she said.
From Ebenezer Park to the Buster Boyd Bridge, boats resting on dry soil, exposed stumps and ankle deep shoals are commonplace.
"We definitely have seen a rash of broken props (propellors) and grounded vessels," said Capt. Brian Graves, director of operations of SeaTow, a marine towing service. "There has really been an increase in business."
Graves said his crews rescue at least one boat every day on Lake Wylie, including many that ran into shallow water problems.
For more information on water restrictions, visit Heraldonline.com this afternoon for updates.
Despite new water restrictions going into effect today that could limit lawn and garden watering, experts say there's still hope for the parched landscapes across the area.
Debi Hicklin, a master gardener at Wilson's Nursery in Rock Hill, said there are plants and care methods to help your garden survive.
"We really need to start carrying a line of cacti," she quipped Wednesday morning. "Every so often, we have really hot years like this."
Here are a few of Hicklin's pointers to keep your beloved blooms alive:
Mounds of mulch: Spread several inches of mulch to protect your plants and trees from the suns rays. It will help the ground stay moist after watering. "The best advice I can give people is to mulch good," Hicklin said. "It holds the moisture."
Water deep: You might only have once or twice a week to water your dainty daisies, so make it count. A long, soaking watering will seep under the roots of the plant, encouraging roots to stay underground instead of growing toward the surface looking for water. "If you water deep and nice and slow, you'll have better results," Hicklin said.
Be selective: Certain plants stand up to drought better than others. Hicklin suggests ornamental grasses, vinca, begonias and select roses to withstand the heat. The ever-popular crepe myrtles are usually hardy, she said, but stay away from azaleas, dogwoods or Japanese maple trees if you can't provide plenty of shade.
Get a pot: "When heat moves in, I'd be wary of putting anything in the ground," Hicklin said. So, try potting your favorite colors. Potted plants are easier to maintain and can be watered easily.
Don't sweat it: Hicklin said most established fescue lawns may turn brown during a drought, but will brighten up after rainfall. Trees may also look weary, but if you water when you can, they'll return in the springtime as good as new.
Fall is best: If you need to start from scratch, Hicklin said the best time to plant is in late fall and early winter. So wait a few months before trying anything new.
-- Adam O'Daniel