Resolutions approved by Chapel Hill Mayor Kevin Foy, Carrboro Mayor Mike Nelson and Orange County Commissioners Chairman Barry Jacobs declared that the previously enforced Level 1 water emergency was no longer in effect after the OWASA board of directors voted Thursday to relax restrictions.
The board made its decision at a specially called meeting to address the newest drought conditions following a little more than an hour of presentations and debate.
Ed Holland, OWASA director of planning and development, briefed the board on the status of the utility's two reservoirs, Cane Creek and University Lake. "We've taken in over 1.1 billion gallons of water since last Friday. This puts our reservoirs at 62 percent," Holland said. "Based on consumption levels of the past 30 days, we've gone from 132 days of water up to 280."
Holland indicated that OWASA's conservation campaign, in conjunction with the restrictions, is having the desired effect. Water use is down 3 million gallons daily from this time last year.
Following Holland's briefing, Ed Kerwin, OWASA's executive director, made his recommendation to the board, affirming the move to Stage 2.
"With the cold months ahead, the staff does not feel this is any longer an emergency," he said. "We do caution that there is no indication the drought is over."
Kerwin said the deluge of Oct. 11, which brought millions of gallons to the OWASA service area, will only carry the community for so long. The real concern will be precipitation in the coming months and the streamflow rain brings with it.
Though the motion to move to Stage 2 was approved unanimously, board members expressed frustration at the bounds placed on them by the water ordinances on the books for Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Orange County. "I agree emergency restrictions should be lifted, but it's not an ideal situation," board member Judith Weseman said. "We should sleep in the bed we've made, we're past the trigger date, so lift the restrictions."
Trigger dates are the guide the board uses for changing restriction levels. The trigger date for Stage 2 restrictions is set at 125 remaining days of water, far beneath current water levels. In addition to other problems in city and county ordinances relating to types of irrigation allowable and the latitude given the board to act, the trigger dates also have been called too low by several officials.
To combat the problems posed by the ordinance, the board placed an addendum on its motion requesting the local governments come together with the board to craft a stronger ordinance before next drought season.
The board set a date of March 1, historically the time when water use begins to climb, for completion of a new ordinance.
The strongest opposition to the restrictions downgrading came from board member John Smith, who claimed stepping back from strong restrictions at this juncture could cause people to not take the restrictions seriously if they have to be changed again.
"Going out of emergency restrictions is betting on rain in the spring," he said. "If we don't get that rain, it will be difficult to get folks to go back next year."
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