07/15/08 — Easley's drought relief bill gets initial approval

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Easley's drought relief bill gets initial approval

By Anessa Myers
Published in News on July 15, 2008 1:51 PM

The state may soon have more of a say in local water conservation efforts during drought situations than ever before.

The House tentatively approved a bill Monday that would give state officials the power to order municipalities to conserve water.

But the local governments that have control over water systems or local water authorities will still be able to say how much and who must conserve.

Drought bill at a glance

* Allow local governments to use the conservation plans they filed with state regulators in 2002.

* Allow state officials to approve or disapprove plans and to direct local officials to increase conservation if enough water isn't being saved.

* Allow municipalities the option of installing separate metering for residents with in-ground sprinklers.

* Allow the governor to declare water shortage emergencies, requiring local systems with excess water to transfer it to those without.

* Allow gray water (water used to bathe or wash dishes) to be recycled.

City Manager Joe Huffman said "that some of the (state) regulations appear to be advisable."

But, he added, city officials are still trying to determine the long-term consequences of some components of the bill.

Huffman said last week that he didn't believe the bill would affect Goldsboro much -- at least not to the extent that it might affect other areas -- because the city has long been in the practice of conserving water during drought conditions.

"We have an ordinance for water conservation. Some of the other places in the state might not," he said.

Goldsboro usually follows pretty closely with state recommendations, he added.

"Our actions were pretty much in line with the state's requests (during a drought situation) anyway," he said.

But, Huffman said that he wanted more time to look over the bill in greater detail.

Public Utilities Director Karen Brashear requested the same.

"It's going to need to be deciphered and picked apart to interpret what this means," she said, because some of the bill is "pretty complex."

The bill currently states that it would help to improve "drought preparedness and response."

It also states that local governments and water authorities will need to prepare a water conservation plan that must be submitted to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources for review and approval.

That department may also require that a local government implement stricter water conservation measures if it finds that the county that the public water source is in is categorized as in a severe, extreme or exceptional drought by the North Carolina Drought Management Advisory Council. If the county is in one of those categories, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources may require the local government to implement the next tier or even two tiers up from the current level of conservation measures in order to help with the overall state water supply.

And if there is an area that is in need of water, the bill gives state officials the power to "require any water system that has a water supply in excess of that required to meet the essential water uses of its customers" to provide that area with water. But, the receiving water system shall reimburse the supplying water system for the cost of the water if this situation should occur.

The bill also allows the use of gray water -- wastewater that was used in wash basins, bathtubs and showers -- for hand watering of trees, shrubs and inedible plants in periods of drought.

The drought bill still needs to pass its final readings in the House and be heard by the Senate in a session that many legislators believe could end this week.

Currently, Wayne County is back down to the moderate drought category after being listed in the severe drought category only last week, according to the North Carolina Drought Manage-ment Advisory Council Web site. The county joins 42 other counties in the category. Thirteen counties are in exceptional drought -- the highest drought category, while 25 are in extreme, 15 are in severe and four counties are in the abnormally dry category.