Tighter water restrictions 'imminent'

After a month of mandatory water cutbacks, water restrictions are expected to tighten further in Rock Hill by the end of the month, city officials said Wednesday.

Utilities director Jimmy Bagley said a Stage 3 drought response is "imminent" as lake levels and the water table continue to drop from lack of rain. Bagley said the move to Stage 3, which means a maximum of once-a-week lawn watering, likely will begin at the end of the month, despite residents' best efforts to conserve.

"Folks really are doing their part," Bagley said, noting only four individuals have been fined for disobeying mandatory water rules that were put in place more than a month ago. "If we go to a Stage 3, it's because the rain hasn't kept pace."

City spokeswoman Lyn Garris said exact rules of a Stage 3 response have not been finalized by city leaders, but she expects lawn watering rules to tighten. Once imposed, the rules would impact water customers in Rock Hill, rural York County, Fort Mill and Tega Cay.

"Before we impose anything,we want to make sure we're ready," Garris said. "This is a very serious drought."

According to Duke Energy, a typical Stage 3 response includes:

• Once-a-week lawn watering or less;

• No recreational outdoor water use;

• No car or pressure washing;

• Officials meeting with major industries to discuss required cutbacks.

Bagley said it's been at least five years since Stage 3 actions have been taken in Rock Hill. The maximum Stage 4 response would prohibit all nonessential uses of water.

Since Jan. 1, only about 24 inches of rain has fallen, 10 inches below normal for this time of year, according to the National Weather Service. Since Aug. 17, when mandatory cutbacks were put in place in Rock Hill, only about an inch of rain has fallen in the area, most coming last week when the remnants of Hurricane Humberto brought 0.91 inches of rain to the greater Charlotte area. But the area remains in an extreme drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, and last week's showers did little more than tease parched lawns.

The drought also has taken its toll on Lake Wylie, Rock Hill's main source of water. According to Duke Energy, the lake is more than 5.3 feet below normal levels, prompting many boat-ramp closings, safety warnings and lake water restrictions.

Bagley said the drought has impacted the underground water table, adding to the water shortage.

"Most of the lakes are built on springs, and when the water table drops, those springs turn into drains," he said.

While cooler temperatures have slowed evaporation, there is still little rain is sight. Forecasters predict a 20 percent chance of rain showers Friday but clear skies all weekend.