The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Friday January 21st

Water Emergency Declared

The board received a presentation on the state of the water supply and OWASA's staff's predictions for the supply in the coming months. Following water usage trends, OWASA's reservoirs would run dry in mid-January if no precipitation falls between now and then.

The board chose to apply Emergency Level One restrictions with the goal of reducing overall water consumption by 25 percent.

Despite last week's rain, the utility's reservoirs are only 41 percent full. Kerwin said further conservation measures could not wait any longer.

"This is now an emergency," he said. "I recommend we move to Emergency Level One."

The guidelines for Emergency Level One were established in town and county ordinances this spring following collaboration between OWASA and Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Orange County governments. Emergency Level One is the third in a series of water conservation stages.

The main restriction makes the use of water outdoors illegal except for firefighting purposes.

The new restrictions also give Kerwin the power, as executive director, to reduce or terminate water service to parts of the OWASA service area for the preservation of public health and community services. The move also requires UNC, OWASA's single biggest customer at 31 percent of water usage, and other customers to reduce heating and cooling demands in all but the most essential facilities.

Carolyn Elfland, UNC's vice chancellor for campus services, attended the meeting and was asked by the board to present the University's position on moving to stronger restrictions.

"The University is very concerned," Elfland said. "We have no problem advancing to these restrictions."

Elfland said after the meeting that the University's Senior Crisis Management Group will be meeting at 11 a.m. today to discuss how the University will deal with the new restrictions.

Kerwin said he will request that the town officials begin enforcing the new regulations as soon as possible. "Nothing is official until the two mayors and the commissioners' chairman sign off on it," he said. "We're aiming for Monday."

Several board members, including Susie Holloway, were ready to institute emergency measures from the get-go.

"The community counts on us to make sure we don't run out of water," Holloway said. "We have seen how hard it is to change people's water usage; we must send a clear, consistent message that current usage habits cannot continue."

The board entertained a motion requesting local officials make alterations to the standing ordinances that would make the emergency guidelines more specific, but the motion was tabled until the board meets again Thursday.

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The Daily Tar Heel for December 1, 2021

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