09/16/07 — Local officials moving water conservation from voluntary to mandatory

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Local officials moving water conservation from voluntary to mandatory

By News-Argus Staff
Published in News on September 16, 2007 2:10 AM

No more glasses of water while you review the menu at local restaurants.

No more baths or weekend car washes in the driveway.

And no more nightly attempts to keep your lawn green with the sprinkler.

Or it will cost you.

Officials at City Hall said Mayor Al King is expected to call for mandatory conservation of water at Monday's meeting of the Goldsboro City Council, as levels at the Neuse River intake continue to decrease.

Public Utilities Director Karen Brashear said the strict measures were imminent more than a month ago, when record heat, high humidity and lack of rain began drying out much of the state.

"We have been looking at trends," she said. "And they don't look good."

State officials agree that without significant rain events, Falls Lake will be out of water by the end of November, Mrs. Brashear added.

And that is why taking action now that might protect the city's water supply in the future is critical.

City Manager Joe Huffman urged residents to take the measures seriously -- and said he believes they will.

"Ninety-nine percent of people realize we have a problem and want to help," he said. "When people realize how difficult the situation is, I don't think they are going to meet expectations. I think they are going to exceed them."

Some began conserving when King ordered voluntary conservation at the beginning of the summer, Huffman added -- people like his neighbors who said they had decided to hold off on washing the family car until conditions improve.

"People are conscientious," Huffman said. "I didn't call them. They called me. I have seen a lot of people doing things already that are above what we asked."

Those who do not will face stiff penalties.

Heavy consumption will result, first, in a warning.

Then the monetary penalties are handed down.

Huffman said he is not thrilled that the situation calls for such drastic measures.

But he knows just how "precious" water is -- and hopes city residents will see it, too.

"Except air, water is the most important resource," Huffman said. "We can't live without water. We need to treat it as a critical resource."

Doing so, Mrs. Brashear said, means making life changes -- taking quick showers instead of baths, only running the dishwater and washing machine for full loads.

"Every little bit we can conserve is important," she said. "This really is becoming a very serious situation."

For local restaurant owners, conserving water is already part of the menu, so they say they are ready to handle the new rules.

Bert Matthews, manager of the Berkeley Boulevard Starbucks, said his employees don't give out water unless customers ask for it.

He added that they have also been conserving in other ways.

"We already do water conservation. It is part of what the corporation does. Everything from the dishwasher right down to the air conditioner conserves water. We have already tightened up. Even the stuff we use to wash our pitchers out with is low flow and high volume," he said.

And when conservation becomes mandatory, he said Starburcks doesn't plan to do anything differently.

Texas Steakhouse is also on the conservation wagon, but manager Lillie Mozingo said the restaurant must still maintain customer service and cleanliness.

"We have to run water to make sure everything is clean. We have to wash the dishes and scrub the floors. We have to do that for the health inspection and safety of our customers," she said.

When mandatory conservation is announced, Ms. Mozingo said she doesn't exactly know what else the restaurant staff can do.

"We already have cut down on what we don't need. Every penny counts. If it comes to (mandatory conservation), I guess we can try to cut a few more corners, but we can't do anything that would jeopardize our business or affect our customer service," she said.

The city is not trying to damage customer service, Huffman said -- only trying to do what other towns have by following the state ordinance suggestions.

He added that he doesn't think people would be that upset about not having a glass of water when they sit down to eat.

"Here's my guess -- you never know what people are going to say -- but it's not just the water in the glass," he said. "With every restaurant in the city, all the glasses in the city, that's a lot of water, but then you have the process of washing the glasses. That uses up a resource."

He said he believes the restriction will save the restaurants some of those pennies Ms. Mozingo talked about.

"Frankly, unless somebody asks for (water), (the restaurants) are probably going to save money," he said. "The less water they use, the less their water bill will be. The less dishes they have to wash, the more the workers can be doing other things."

Huffman remains optimistic that mandatory restrictions won't last long.

Maybe Friday's thunderstorms in Wake County improved conditions at the Neuse, he said.

"We have unprecedented conditions. These are extraordinary times," he said. "But I hope this is all unnecessary."

Should King, indeed, call for more firm conservation measures, officials will keep a close watch on water usage beginning Tuesday and those found in violation of the policy will begin receiving warnings and fines.

Officials in Mount Olive are also asking residents to use water sparsely.