City set to enforce water-limit restrictions

Duke Energy declared a Stage 2 drought on Monday, the latest response to the dry conditions that have persisted across the Carolinas for weeks.

The move means all 70 local governments that rely on the Catawba River for water must enact mandatory restrictions. Rock Hill, the major provider in York County, has already taken that step.

Two weeks ago, city officials launched their own Stage 2-level response, limiting lawn-watering to twice a week and banning customers from washing cars, outside buildings, sidewalks and driveways.

"We saw it coming," said Rock Hill Utilities Director Jimmy Bagley. "It's the right thing to do. If we don't start cutting back now, it's just going to get worse."

Since mandatory restrictions went into effect, consumption in York County has decreased by 11 percent, Bagley said. Today, the city will begin ticketing violators as a way to make sure that trend continues.

Citations will be $50 for homes and $100 for businesses, increasing with each successive citation. The city has gotten calls about repeat offenders, and Bagley said those violators will be the first to receive fines.

"Some people aren't doing their part," Bagley said. "If we don't enforce it, then you have people who say, 'It's not important.' And everybody starts taking a chance."

Mecklenburg County will take similar action today, enforcing its first mandatory water restrictions in five years with the goal of lowering water demand by 10 percent.

Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory offered a new slogan to make the best of a condition facing many once-green yards: "Brown is beautiful," he said at a Lake Wylie press conference.

Duke estimates evaporation alone on a 95-degree day robs its Catawba River reservoirs of 300 million gallons of water, more than Duke's power plants and local municipalities take combined. The U.S. Drought Monitor now says Mecklenburg and the southern Piedmont are in extreme drought.

Duke and 24 Catawba water systems take part in a drought-response plan that's based on lake levels, stream flows and drought conditions. Most are already under voluntary or mandatory limits.

In York County and much of South Carolina, the dry weather is expected to continue at least for the next several days. The most likely days for rain this week appear to be Thursday or Friday, but even then it's only a 30 percent chance.

"We are not looking at any organized rainfall any time soon," said meteorologist Harry Gerapetritis of the National Weather Service. "Our prognosis for any long-term relief is not looking good at this point."