Stage 3 drought plan to start Monday

Conditions are getting worse for thousands of parched lawns.

Beginning Monday, water customers in Rock Hill and across most of York County will be prohibited from watering lawns more than once a week, officials said Friday when Rock Hill enacted Stage 3 drought restrictions.

"That gives people the chance to get through the weekend, adjust their sprinkler systems or whatever they need to do," said Jimmy Bagley, director of utilities for the city.

Despite scattered rain showers late Thursday, Duke Energy authorities declared a Stage 3 drought for the entire Catawba River Basin, sparking new rules for many communities that depend on the Catawba River and its lakes for water.

Because the city of Rock Hill supplies water to Fort Mill, Tega Cay and parts of Lake Wylie and rural York County in addition to its own customers, those communities follow the same restrictions as Rock Hill. In Tega Cay, City Council members recently gave initial approval to an ordinance that will bring that city in line with Rock Hill's rules.

The city of York, which uses different water restriction phases than the county, is not planning to increase water restrictions at this point, Mayor Eddie Lee said. The city already has implemented mandatory water restrictions and prohibits outdoor sprinkler use, he said. Violators will have their water service disconnected.

The Clover Town Council will discuss changes to that town's water rules Monday night. Clover purchases water from Gastonia, N.C., and will consider following its rules of limiting household water use to 150 gallons daily and banning all outdoor watering, town officials said.

The rules don't apply to county residents operating private wells, authorities said.

Area in 'exceptional' drought

Weather officials recorded 0.13 inches of rain Thursday at the Rock Hill/York County Airport, but it did little more than tease parched lawns.

The U.S. Drought Monitor this week declared the entire Charlotte region in an "exceptional" drought, the worst possible classification. The area was in an extreme drought for the past month. Experts at the National Climatic Data Center say it will take nearly 2 feet or more of rain to end the drought.

Duke Energy said usable water in the basin is at 42 percent, far below the normal 70 percent or more expected this time of year. The water supply in the basin has been shrinking 2 percent to 3 percent a week, Duke said.

"We are all trying to stretch the water resource as much as we can," said Steve Jester, Duke's vice president of Hydro Licensing and Lake Services. "I don't think we're at the point where this is cause for panic."

Continued conservation and a little rain would keep the plants operating and the water supplies adequate, he said.

If the drought worsens, Duke might have to decrease power-plant operations and buy power from outside sources, which is expensive. The region also could move into Stage 4 restrictions, which would require water-consumption cuts of 20 percent to 30 percent through steps decided by each community. For most of York County, that would mean no outdoor water use and daily household limits, officials said.

Weather forecasts call for a slight chance of showers this weekend, but amounts aren't expected to be more than one-tenth of an inch. Weekend high temperatures will be in the mid-80s. Clear skies are expected by Monday with highs in the upper 80s.

• Lawn watering limited to once weekly. Odd-numbered addresses may water only from 9 p.m. Wednesday to 5 a.m. Thursday. Even-numbered addresses may water only from 9 p.m. Sunday to 5 a.m. Monday.

• Hand-watering is allowed daily but should be limited to early morning and late evening hours.

• All car washing is prohibited unless performed at a commercial site that recycles water.

• Pressure washing and other outdoor washing is prohibited.

• Any water use that results in runoff is prohibited.

• Filling swimming pools and decorative fountains is prohibited.

• Businesses must obtain a special variance to receive a hydrant permit.

• Violators will be cited and fined.

• For information or to report violations, call (803) 326-2450.