Rock Hill's drought restrictions not changing

For months, Stage 3 drought has meant no lawn watering, fines for those who did and tattletale neighbors calling the authorities when someone snuck out at 3 a.m. to offer their prized azaleas a drink of water.

Now, Stage 3 means three more months, or more, of the same water restrictions in Rock Hill, city officials said at a Wednesday news conference. And without more rain, extreme steps -- including rationing water -- might be considered this summer.

"We're not planning to make any changes to our Stage 3 declaration at this point," Rock Hill City Manager Carey Smith said, despite above-average rainfall in recent weeks and rising lake levels.

The city's announcement comes just days after Clover and its water supplier, Gastonia, N.C., relaxed water restrictions for residents, despite the Catawba-Wateree Drought Management Advisory Group recommending restrictions remain intact.

"The strength is people working together based on what the numbers indicate," Smith said about Rock Hill's decision to follow the advisory group. "Everybody needs to be doing that."

Rock Hill Utilities Director Jimmy Bagley said many people in York County have seen area lakes returning to normal levels and believe the drought has concluded.

But that's not true, he said.

While lakes are back to normal levels thanks to a 30 percent drop in water usage and less water being released from dams, other indicators, such as streamflow and the U.S. Drought Monitor, show the area is still somewhere between a Stage 3 and Stage 4 drought.

For that reason, Bagley said water restrictions won't be changing. He said a dry spring and summer is widely predicted, and easing rules now would put water supplies this summer at risk.

"I'm afraid we're going to go into a drought this summer much faster than last summer," he said. "We want everyone to understand what these triggers are and what has to happen before we go to a Stage 2 or increase to Stage 4."

Bagley said area streams are flowing only at 38 percent of their target rate. The U.S. Drought Monitor also reports an extreme drought still is in place. Both of those measurements will have to improve before Stage 2 water restrictions, which allow limited watering, will be considered.

How long will that take? Bagley said it will require three more months of above-average rainfall to reach a Stage 2.

On the other hand, if rainfall drops below average, city officials predict Stage 4 rules, which include water rations, could be in place by the end of summer.

"I wonder if we'll ever go back to a system where people can water whenever and however much they want to," Smith said, noting long-term growth likely will continue to strain water resources. "If we're serious about conservation, we may never go back."

The following water restrictions apply to all communities served by Rock Hill water, including Rock Hill, Fort Mill, Tega Cay and York.

• All use of irrigation systems and sprinklers are prohibited.

• Hand-watering is allowed in the early morning and late evening hours.

• Car washing is prohibited, unless performed by a professional service that recycles water.

• Pressure washing is prohibited.

• Filling of pools and fountains is prohibited.

• Violators face fines beginning at $50.