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City urges water conservation as dry summer takes its toll

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Bob and Lucy Prim of Flat Rock have used this irrigation system to collect and distribute rainwater via hose, from a barrel to a network of buckets and via hose to water the lawn. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

This is the second week of a stage one water shortage — the mildest — as water demand is exceeding the supply and its transmission capabilities. “When demand results in a condition where customers cannot be provided with a water supply adequate to protect their health and safety, the demand on the water supply and/or system must be substantially curtailed to relieve the water shortage,” Utilities Director Lee Smith stated.

The city asks people to do laundry and wash cars less often, shower quickly instead of filling a bathtub, use water-cooled air conditioners less often, choose Energy Star-rated high efficiency laundry washers and dishwashers, switch to lower-flow toilets and flush them after multiple uses instead of every other time.

Other steps include to water the lawn, shrubs and garden just enough to keep greenery alive, delay landscaping projects, to not fill swimming pools beyond topping them off, and by using water captured in rain barrels or dehumidifiers instead of from the faucet. Decorative barrels made by summer camps were on Main Street’s 400 block, slated for July 22 to Aug. 3, as a demonstration.

Laundering only full loads saves water and electric energy, too, year-round. Many people also already turn faucet flow down or off when rinsing dishes, shaving or shampooing hair. And they avoid having to wash dishes by instead using disposable and biodegradable dishes.

It helps greatly to use a container to collect wasted water at home. This includes water flowing as it heats up a bath and shower, or evaporating from air conditioners and heat pumps then to use it to water indoor plants. A heat pump can produce 100 gallons or more of such in a summer.

The city’s 10 water conservation tips online include not using the garbage disposal, which needs to be cooled with running water.

Consider refitting plumping, especially if many leaks are detected. Replace washers and O-rings of tub and sink faucets that drip.

Mow grass at a higher height lets its roots grow more, making the lawn more drought-resistant. Sweep rather than hosting off driveway debris.

Barrels of Fun

Catching rainwater from gutters into rain barrels is a major step. Bob and Lucy Prim of Flat Rock first did so during the 2008 drought. They bought and set up an intricate natural irrigation system at home, to water their greenery. Rainwater collects in barrels. It is distributed via hose to the lawn, and to a network of large buckets. The Prims dip a watering pitcher into the buckets, then water shrubs and plants by hand to keep them alive.

“Our newly-planted rhododendrons and mountain laurels weren’t established then, and were quickly dying from the dry heat,” Lucy Prim said. “But they’ve done much better during drought, since their roots got established. Most of our plants are native, and don’t need extra watering. So we’re not collecting water any more. We’re letting (occasional) rain do it. We’re getting little bits of rain — enough to keep roots alive.”

She is impressed about Sierra Nevada’s “elaborate system” she saw on a recent tour. “They collect water off their roof, to use for flushing toilets.”

Smith gave public notice of the conservation matters Aug. 5. This was once City Manager John Connet enacted the City’s Water Shortage Response and Conservation ordinance’s Stage I water shortage advisory.

The statewide drought has sapped the Mills River water supply, which has levels below normal, he noted. The conservation steps are ways to substantially reduce water use, in line with the lower water supply. The city’s system provides water throughout the county.

Looking ahead a week, reports Friday then Tuesday, Aug. 18 with nearly a half a chance of rain but a mere 30 percent or less other days.

The county is among 37 out of 100 North Carolina counties with a mild drought advisory, according to the N.C. Drought Management Advisory Council. The National Centers for Environmental Information reports that in June, there is moisture in short or very short supply in this state for 35 percent of topsoil and 34 percent of pasture and range land. More than half of such land in neighboring South Carolina is overly dry. The much rainier Northeast was much better off than the Southeast in soil moisture.

Rainfall is falling below average. Two summers ago, it was 30 percent above the usual pace. Hendersonville normally gets about four inches of rain in April and May then five each in June through August, tapering down to 4.7 in September then 3.46 in October, according to the U.S. Climate Data.

In 2010, the summer had the hottest temperatures in Henderson County ever recorded, in over a century of National Weather Service data.

The City of Hendersonville will no longer urge conservation measures if it declares the shortage is over at least temporarily. Or the city could ban certain water uses, if the shortage severely worsens.

Such a ban with fines for flagrant violations was imposed during such stage II droughts as in August of 2008, after voluntary steps were deemed not enough as they were in the prior summer. The ban in ’08 forbid washing cars, other than at a commercial car wash that recycles water. Such restrictions sparked debate as hindering businesses too much, resulting in easing of the city code in 2010.

Pools could not be filled. Lawns, shrubs and trees were not to be watered with tap water. Vegetable gardens could be watered no more than once weekly, using up to one inch of water. Restaurants were to not bring out water to customers, unless requested. And water-cooled air conditions were banned from use, unless the water was recycled. There were more than 100 phone reports of violations.

No such restrictions are in place now. Instead, the shortage advisory urges milder conservation steps.

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