Water restrictions needed

Rock Hill and many of the cities and counties surrounding Charlotte can enact responsible restrictions on the use of water during an increasingly serious drought. But those measures can't counteract the big gulp Charlotte residents continue to take out of the Catawba River.

After urging residents to exercise voluntary conservation measures, Rock Hill city officials last week instituted Stage 2 mandatory water restrictions. Residents have to limit use of lawn and garden sprinklers and irrigation systems to two days a week between the hours of 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. Watering plants with low-volume, hand-held devices is allowed at any time, but residents can't wash cars, houses or any outdoor structures.

The rules apply not only to homeowners but also to schools, businesses and other large institutions. Those who violate water restrictions could face a $50 fine.

The city, we think, has taken a responsible approach to the hot, bone-dry weather. The city is about 11 inches below average rainfall for the year so far, and has had barely a sprinkle of rain during August.

If the drought continues, the city could move to State 3 restrictions, in which water use would be restricted largely to personal needs, such as drinking, bathing and dishwashing. We hope it doesn't come to that, and that Stage 2 restrictions make a dent in local water consumption.

York, Chester and Tega Cay also have instituted restrictions. Clover has had voluntary conservation measures in place since June. And restrictions have been enacted in cities and counties around Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, including Union County, where fines of up to $500 a day have been in place since May 29.

But Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities pumped 169 million gallons of water on Monday, breaking by 2 million gallons the previous record set on an earlier Monday, May 28. By contrast, water use in Rock Hill has fallen by about 9 percent since restrictions went into effect.

Despite predictions of nothing but hot and dry weather for the foreseeable future, Charlotte and Mecklenburg County have adopted only voluntary restrictions. And many water customers no doubt have decided to water parched lawns while they can.

Authorities in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County are irresponsible in allowing residents to consume water in record quantities as the drought grows worse. And because Charlotte is, by far, the largest water consumer in the Catawba River Basin, its failure to enact mandatory restrictions affects all other cities and counties, including York County, that rely on the Catawba for water.

Duke Energy, which draws substantial amounts of water from the river, has a drought plan suggesting that communities in the river basin adopt mandatory restrictions by Sept. 1 if no substantial rain occurs. We hope Charlotte won't wait until then to act.

Charlotte, the Catawba River Basin's largest user, has not enacted water restrictions.

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