City mulls relaxing water restraints

Water streams from the Lake Wylie Dam in July.
Water streams from the Lake Wylie Dam in July.

Call it an oxymoron. But it's now a drought with too much water.

One week after city officials said water restrictions were in place for the long haul, concern over too much water in area lakes is prompting authorities to consider a reprieve.

Rock Hill City Manager Carey Smith on Wednesday said relaxing water restrictions to allow once-a- week watering will be reviewed by the City Council. The decision to review the ban follows the Catawba-Wateree Drought Management Advisory Group on Tuesday issuing a statement endorsing the change, citing successful conservation efforts and increased rainfall.

Two weeks ago, the advisory group said water rules should not be changed.

Rock Hill Utilities Director Jimmy Bagley said the sudden shift is motivated by a Duke Energy plan to begin releasing water from area lakes, which are above their target levels thanks to recent rainfall.

A Duke representative could not be reached Wednesday afternoon.

Duke, which manages Lake Wylie, Rock Hill's main water source, for months has reduced the amount of water released from dams into the Catawba River to counter the drought. However, above-average rainfall in March prompted Duke to release some water into the Catawba last week to prevent the chance of flooding if unexpected rains occur, Bagley said.

"If they're gonna dump it down the river, it seems as though people will want to be able to put it to good use," Bagley said. "But what people really need to understand is that it could change back as quick as it has changed now."

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities announced Wednesday it will allow once-a-week watering beginning this weekend. Clover, Gastonia, N.C., and Monroe, N.C., all relaxed water rules last month.

Charlotte eases restrictions

In Charlotte, city officials recently have been pressured to relax restrictions by landscapers and other businesses most affected by the ban.

"Another shift in the weather may require us to tighten the rules again later," said Maeneen Klein, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities water conservation manager. "But for now, allowing limited lawn watering is a reasonable step that balances environmental and water supply needs with business and economic needs."

Rock Hill's ban, in place since October, was mandated by the City Council, and a council action will be needed to reverse the ban. Council members will address the question at an April 10 workshop.

"City Council may vote to permit one-day weekly irrigation if they find the information presented to them warrants temporary loosening of the water restrictions," Smith, the city manager, said in a statement released Wednesday afternoon. "We plan to closely review the decision and also the ramifications of loosening water restrictions while still in a Stage 3 drought. We want to be sure that our actions are responsible not just for the present, but going forward."

'Still in a Stage 3'

Bagley said he's concerned residents will misunderstand the situation.

He warned streamflow and the U.S. Drought Monitor, while improved from winter, still show the region as being in a Stage 3 drought. He said lake levels are only above target levels because Duke has stored water to fight the drought and because rainfall was above average in March. Since January, rainfall is more than an inch below normal.

"The fact that Duke is gonna let the water go anyway is the only reason this is even being considered," Bagley said. "We're still in a Stage 3 drought."

If rules are relaxed, residents likely would be allowed to irrigate once a week in the late evening or early morning hours. The ban on washing cars, pressure washing and filling pools and fountains would remain in place.