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City raising heat on water violators

The water police may soon be knocking on your door.

Authorities said Rock Hill's water use spiked well above normal Wednesday and that about 45 water violations have been reported daily since mandatory restrictions went into effect last week.

So utilities officials on Friday will begin passing out $50 fines to violators of the city's mandatory water restrictions, said Utilities Director Jimmy Bagley. Officials also are considering patrolling city streets to look for violations if water use doesn't subside, he said.

Last week, Rock Hill city officials launched a Stage 2 drought response, limiting all water customers to watering lawns twice a week as drought conditions worsen. Residents also are prohibited from washing cars, outside buildings, sidewalks and driveways. Authorities said the measure -- designed to cut water consumption by 10 percent -- was necessary to combat a drought that has put Lake Wylie, the area's main water source, at 5 feet below full pond. Only .01 inches of rain has fallen at the Rock Hill-York County Airport in August, and less than 20 inches has fallen for the year, according to the National Weather Service.

"People did a really good job for the first few days," Bagley said. "But for some reason, it's starting to spike back up."

27 million gallons per day

Bagley said the city was using about 21 million gallons of water per day after restrictions were put in place Friday. That's about 11 percent below normal for August, he said. But Wednesday, the city was using water at a pace of 27 million gallons per day, much too fast for drought conditions, Bagley said.

"The next step for us is to tighten up," Bagley said. "If we're not getting the results we need, then you have to start passing out fines and tighter restrictions."

Bagley said water use needs to be cut to about 20 million gallons per day. A Stage 3 drought response is possible within weeks if conditions don't improve, Bagley said. That would limit lawn watering to once a week.

"I don't want to go to a Stage 3, but we'll do it if that's what we have to do," he said.

While Wednesday's spike was surely helped by students' return to school, Bagley estimates much of the sudden increase comes from irrigation. During early spring, before growing season, only about 14 million gallons are used daily on average, Bagley said. "That tells you how much is going to irrigation," he said. "As dry as it is, it's time to let the grass go."

Rock Hill's tougher stance on water use follows Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities' announcement on Tuesday that it was preparing for mandatory restrictions, too. The Catawba-Wateree Drought Advisory Group, a collection of municipal and Duke Energy leaders, will meet at the beginning of September and are expected to declare a Stage 2 drought for the entire Catawba River Basin, officials said.

There's no sign of relief in the near future. National Weather Service meteorologist John Tomko said there's a slight chance of isolated thunderstorms this weekend, but no significant rain to spell dry conditions.

"It might help your grass a little if you're lucky enough to get under a storm," he said. "But it won't do anything to recharge lakes and reservoirs."

Rock Hill water customers, including the communities of Fort Mill, Tega Cay, Lake Wylie and York, are required to observe the following restrictions regarding their daily water use:

-- Irrigation systems and sprinklers may be used only twice a week between the hours of 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. Odd-numbered addresses may water Wednesdays and Saturdays. Even-numbered addresses may water Thursdays and Sundays.

-- Hand watering is allowed any day of the week during the morning and evening hours. Runoff is prohibited.

-- Washing cars, outdoor buildings and pressure washing is prohibited. Customers may use commercial car washes that recycle water.

-- Lake Wylie residents also are asked to curtail pumping water from the lake for irrigation, Duke Energy officials announced last week.

Violators will be issued a $50 fine. To report violations or learn more details, call the water hotline at (803) 326-2450.

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