Water restrictions likely to stay, but won't tighten -- yet

The fate of water restrictions along the Catawba River will be on the line Tuesday when the Catawba-Wateree Drought Advisory Group hosts a conference call with municipal leaders.

The bad news: Rock Hill Utilities Director Jimmy Bagley says don't expect water restrictions to be lifted. The good news: Bagley said water use by Rock Hill customers has dropped by almost 20 percent, so he doesn't expect rules to get any tighter on York County residents next week.

"Everything's good right now," Bagley said. "Barring an emergency situation, everything should stay the same."

Rock Hill was one of the first cities in the Catawba Basin to implement mandatory water cutbacks when it issued a Stage 2 drought response Aug. 17. The U.S. Drought Monitor last week indicated the basin, which includes most of the Charlotte region, was in a severe drought, and most municipalities followed with strict water-use guidelines.

The Charlotte region received only .41 inches of rain in August, a record low, according to the National Weather Service. Since the beginning of the year, the area is more than 10 inches below normal.

The Stage 2 response means residents using city water in Rock Hill, York, Tega Cay, Fort Mill and Lake Wylie can only water lawns twice a week. Car washing and outdoor pressure washing is prohibited. Violators are fined $50 for their first offense.

While an increased number of afternoon showers has offered a glimmer of hope, most officials say widespread, soaking rainfall is needed to replenish lakes and streams. Bagley said if dry conditions persist, a Stage 3 response -- limiting watering to once a week -- may be the next step in what is becoming a months-long fight to save water.

"The way everything is going, it will hopefully be another four or five weeks before we have to make that call," he said.

In addition to lawns and gardens, Lake Wylie, the main source of water for York County, continues to suffer from the drought. The lake has dropped 5.3 feet below full pond, which is more than 2 feet below normal for this time of year.

Duke Energy officials last week closed all boat ramps at Allison Creek landing and shut down three of four ramps at the Buster Boyd Access Area. Officials are reminding boaters to use extreme caution on the water as stumps and other debris rest dangerously close to the surface.