Clover loosening water restrictions despite advisory

CLOVER -- Clover is turning on the water, despite a regional advisory not to relax drought restrictions.

The Town Council voted Thursday night to ease water restrictions, becoming the first town in York County to ease the rules implemented during last year's drought. Clover residents will be able to water their lawns once a week, fill fountains and pools and wash their cars using an automatic shut-off hose, activities previously banned.

The move comes days after the town's water supplier, Gastonia, N.C., similarly eased its restrictions.

However, the Catawba-Wateree Drought Advisory Group this week recommended not loosening restrictions. The group, a collection of public works officials from around the region, said Stage 3 drought rules should remain in effect, despite improving conditions, because rainfall for the year is still below normal. Groundwater and streamflow also haven't recovered, and warming temperatures threaten to worsen conditions.

Although looser, Clover's new restrictions are technically within the Stage 3 category, although the rest of York County continues to ban all watering.

"We're kind of in a unique situation because we are in the state of South Carolina and we need to recognize the restrictions that are going on here, but at the same time we're getting our water from North Carolina," said Allison Harvey, Clover's town administrator. "It seems to me -- and apparently the council agreed -- that if Gastonia is comfortable with the relaxation of the restriction then we will be, too."

In Rock Hill, the city that supplies water to most of York County, restrictions will remain the same. Utilities Director Jimmy Bagley said while lake levels are near normal for this time of year, other indicators suggest the drought is far from over.

"We're nowhere near out of the woods," he said, noting streams are only flowing at 38 percent of their normal range. "Right now, we're not as good as we were in July of last year, and we saw how drastically that changed."

Bagley said he thinks allowing lawn watering is premature for the Rock Hill area. He said if rainfall declines, as predicted, then warmer temperatures could quickly put the region into even worse drought conditions.

"I think that's just not wise," he said about loosening restrictions.

Others contend that if water use increases, lake levels will quickly plummet. Since water restrictions were implemented last fall, public water consumption has been reduced by 15 percent to 30 percent, the drought advisory group reported. Duke Energy also has limited the amount of water it's releasing downstream from dams. And although the groundwater level has stopped decreasing, it has not fully recovered.

"It's obvious to the community that we've had some nice rainfall, and the area's lake levels are at or above normal levels for this time of year," said advisory group coordinator Ed Bruce. "But what's less obvious, and just as important to these lake levels, is how much less water is being removed compared to normal conditions."

Clover officials said the relaxed rules don't mean conservation has become less of a priority.

"If we can conserve water in other ways, it may lead the way to continue to allow these temporary relaxations of the prohibitions," Harvey said.