City slaps pair of $50 fines on water violators

The first day of Rock Hill's new crackdown on water use passed with only two $50 tickets handed out -- a sign that people are obeying the mandatory restrictions declared two weeks ago, city officials said.

"Today was a good day," said Jimmy Bagley, city utilities director. "People have finally realized it's not going to get any better. With Charlotte announcing their (restrictions), I think everybody's starting to say, 'Wow, we need to do something.'"

Demand for water from Rock Hill's water treatment plant dipped to about 18 million gallons Tuesday, well below the 23 million average over the past few weeks.

Since the mandatory restrictions took effect, consumption in York County has fallen by 12 percent to 14 percent, Bagley said. The city began ticketing violators on Tuesday as a way to make sure that trend continues. The city said the two homeowners hit with fines had been warned at least once.

Under the restrictions, lawn-watering is limited to twice a week and customers are banned from washing cars, outside buildings, sidewalks and driveways.

Rather than patrolling the city and citing people at random, inspectors are targeting offenders who have been reported by neighbors or others. Citations are $50 for homes and $100 for businesses, increasing with each successive citation.

"If we let too many people go that are blatant about it, we're afraid other people are going to start doing that, too," said Nick Stegall, city public services administrator.

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

The dry weather is expected to continue, barring pop-up thunderstorms. The most likely day for rain this week appears to be Saturday, but even then it's only a 30 percent chance, forecasters said.

Duke Energy 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 says Mecklenburg and the southern Piedmont are in extreme drought.