08/31/07 — Dry as a bone

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Dry as a bone

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on August 31, 2007 1:59 PM

Dotti Holt remains positive.

The rain will come and her garden will grow, she said.

But across town at Goldsboro's water plant, Public Utilities Director Karen Brashear is not so optimistic.

And as one of the city's most knowledgeable sources on drought, she has little reason to be.

Water levels at the Neuse River intake have been below normal for most of the summer.

The city has been on a voluntary conservation of water policy mandated by City Council members for more than eight weeks running.

"We're in an interesting situation right now," Mrs. Brashear said. "These are the lowest numbers we have seen."

Record heat, combined with unusually dry air and little rain, has caught officials across the state off-guard, she added.

"I don't think anybody was prepared for this," she said. "And I don't think anyone has the experience to know what this translates into.

"The Falls Lake actually has negative inflow. Nothing is going in and evaporation is taking water out," Mrs. Brashear added. "This is the hottest and driest it has been in 80 years of recorded history."

But current numbers are only part of the concern, she added.

They don't paint an accurate picture of what is to come.

Upstream in Raleigh, "severe drought" has been used to describe the water crisis in Wake County.

And the decisions made west of Goldsboro will likely negatively impact residents here, Mrs. Brashear said.

"If (the Army Corps of Engineers) step down the releases from the dam, we would see less water here," she said. "And that is what they are talking about doing."

At a recent Neuse River Basin Regional Drought meeting, Ms. Brashear heard "serious discussion" regarding doing just that -- a move she said would likely bring water levels under the trigger for mandatory conservation of water among local residents.

"It will definitely reduce the water levels at the Neuse River at Goldsboro," she said. "You could see mandatory conservation. Hopefully, we won't see anything more serious than that."

Water levels at the intake currently fall between 51.3 and 51.7 feet at Mean Sea Level -- leaving the city under the trigger for voluntary conservation.

If the levels fall below 50 feet MSL, mandatory conservation measures would take effect. Levels below 49.5 feet MSL would be deemed a "water shortage crisis."

Mrs. Brasher believes that without significant rainfall, mandatory conservation is inevitable.

So she and other officials are calling for action -- hoping local residents will begin to take the current measures more seriously.

"If we can slow the consumption habits of people down, they will already be doing much of what they would be doing under mandatory conservation," she said. "And reducing water consumption is a good habit to form now."

City residents are urged to consider taking some of the following steps -- ones Mrs. Brashear said might make a shortage easier to manage.