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monsoon

Drought in Charlotte/Mecklenburg

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I had my camera today and decide to take a few photos of Lake Norman. The Charlotte area is indeed fortunate to have this lake as it is a vast reservoir of water that helps the city get through these periods of drought. Atlanta for example is soon to run out of water because their water supply is much more constrained but even here in Charlotte we should take care to conserve as much as we can.

This is one of piers at the Mecklenburg county public boat dock. It usually spends it's day floating in the water but these days it must be content to sit on the ground as there is no water. Imagine the time when you could pull up your boat aside this dock and get out.

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Channel Markers. Boating Rules say you are supposed to stay to the left. I assume the lake police are not too concerned with enforcement right now.

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More to the point for this topic. This curious structure, the one that looks like a picnic shelter in the water is actually a cleverly disguised water intake for the Charlotte water system. There is a good chance the water for the last bath you took in Charlotte started it's journey to your bathroom from this point. This is one of 1 of 3 intakes intakes for the entire CMUD system. As you can see water levels around the intake have dropped a great deal.

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So the point of this topic is what can we do in Charlotte specifically to get people to conserve water?

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Perhaps Charlotte can look toward its northern neighbor, Cabarrus County, for some insight on how to conserve water as that county was able to reduce water consumption by I believe 29% (the most in the Charlotte metro) after restrictions had gone into place. I'm not sure about Charlotte, but in Concord if you use above a certain amount of water each month you are charged a higher rate thus curbing the use of water for irrigation purposes for many (obviously there are folks who will pay whatever amount necessary to have a green lawn).

I think the obvious answer to this problem is to limit the amount of watering you can do for irrigation purposes long-term. Allow vegetable gardens and the like but severely limit usage of irrigation for lawns. Perhaps a second water meter should be used for irrigation and charged a higher rate and new homes should be required to connect external spigots to this second water meter. Perhaps Charlotte should also look to cities in the western US for insight, for example giving credit if you replace some of your lawn with something that doesn't need watering to keep green. Maybe credit can also be given for planting certain types of grass that require less watering and upkeep for our particular area.

Flyers should be mailed out to all residences outlining basic steps that can be done to reduce water consumption such as limiting the amount of baths you take in lieu of showers, replacing older nozzles with low-flow versions, etc.

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Those pictures are very telling. How far down is the lake from full pool anyway?

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Duke Power lists the following:

Actual: 93.2

Target: 96.6

Min: 90.0

Max: 100.00

Low Inflow: 3

Full pond is considered 100 feet so it's 6.8 feet off of full pond.

Target is what is a good level based on the season

Minimum is range set to meet the community's expectations. It doesn't list what the actual minimum level is though.

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I have heard a couple of stories from Cabarrus County at work (just random examples), and there are apparently neighborhoods on wells that have blatantly ignored the conservation edict, because they were not technically covered by the law. According to the anecdote, lots of people were saturating their lawns, and posted signs not to bother calling them in because they were covered. Now, it seems that the obvious results are now occurring, and those wells are running dry throughout the region. People really have a disconnect between their actions and their impact in the big picture. I think people assume theat a single person does not make a difference, but we all know more and more that it really does.

I don't have a yard to water or a car to wash, and to keep a couple trees in my yard from struggling, I point the shower water into a bucket when it is waiting to getting warm to pour on them. Really, I'm not sure what else to do to save water beyond taking bird baths, which I'm just not going to do.

What I find to be really counter-intuitive is that the utility department does not have dynamic pricing that allows the water to have more immediate supply-demand price. When there isn't much water, that which is left is much more valuable, so it should be priced accordingly. The bottom line is that people won't reliably conserve it unless it is expensive.

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.....Full pond is considered 100 feet so it's 6.8 feet off of full pond.

Target is what is a good level based on the season

Minimum is range set to meet the community's expectations. It doesn't list what the actual minimum level is though.

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Those are some very telling pictures Metro. Incidently, I was speaking with a Duke engineer not too long ago and he was explaining the drought situation for the various intake structures on the area lakes. Basically, the water intakes for drinking water will be the first to go. At the time I spoke to him there was about 4-5 feet of water above these intakes. The nuke plant on Lake Norman would be next and the area coal plants would be last. Basically, if we lost power due to lake of water for cooling in the power plants, we would be in deep doo doo because that would mean that the lakes would be dry completely.

I was thinking about this information when I was reading your post and it got me thinking about something that I have never seen addressed anywhere. This is just a little OT from the OP, but I think it is somewhat relevant :offtopic: . I wonder how much of the water used to take a shower, wash your dishes, or whatever water you use in your house that goes into the sewer system is actually returned to the river? If you use say 10 gallons of water to take a shower, does half of that make it back to the river after being treated at the waste water treatment plant? Less or more? Just some questions I had.

But as far as what can be done to further reduce water consumption? I think the best was is to introduced higher rates for water past a certain amount like several people suggested. The best way to make people cut down on something is to hit their pocketbook.

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I am not really following all the details of this situations, but I did read that Atlanta's issue was that the treated water went back into the river south of any collection lake, so it doesn't go back into their system. I interpolated that we probably put our treated effluent back into the river above one of the other lakes in our area, so it does all get re-captured. I'm not sure if Lake Wylie water is used at all for our city's drinking supply, but at least (in this uncorroborated theory) it is captured in a nearby lake. But from what I have read, the biggest issue then is evaporation, such as from people watering lawns during the daytime, and other ways. Obviously, that is not an issue in the macro sense, but it is for our regional water situation.

My concern is that people are so stubborn that they will still choose not to believe all these unusual events have anything to do with climate change and global warming. We might be sucking mud out of our faucets and people will still just think it is a fluke, despite thousands of scientists carefully studying the big picture telling us otherwise. Duke and others are saying Nuclear (and others say Nucular) is the solution to the big picture problem, but if there is no water, then it doesn't work. I suppose, then, that long term drought is a solution to global warming, to shut down the coal plants.

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I won't get into a discussion on global warming or climate change, but there needs to be better measures put into place to conserve water all the time, not just in times of drought. If this drought happened in Charlotte 20 years ago, I seriously doubt that there would have been talk of running out of water because there were far fewer people in the area using the water supply. Since the city is growing like a weed, put restrictions in place to limit the amount of water a family can use. Instead of waiting until there is a drought, always have a 2-day per week restriction on watering lawns. Limiting the washing of cars at home to 1 day a month. Make water rates higher for every gallon used above a certain acceptable amount needed for day-to-day life. You hear reports that since the restrictions were put into place, water consumption has dropped 20% or something, but if these restrictions were law, maybe the lake levels wouldn't be where they are now.

As for future energy needs, we need to build nuclear plants. They are efficient, and emit no carbon dioxide. As for the water requirements, put them on the coast where there is an endless supply of cooling water.

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In answer to the question about different levels of pricing based on how much water is used, CMUD already does this. For a single family home, not counting sewer bills, fees, etc., the rates are:

0 - 11 Ccf/mo.

$1.33

12-22 Ccf/mo

$2.18

> 22 Ccf/mo.

$4.31

Where 1 Ccf is 100 cubic feet (equal to 748 gallons of water). The average residential customer uses about 8.5 Ccf.

Irrigation meters are separate but have the same fee scale. Maybe they should revisit the pricing for that to make people think twice about watering their yards every day.

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Most cities do not put their treated water back in the system upstream for reuse because most people are disgusted by that concept even though in many cases the water that is put back into the river is cleaner than when it was taken out.

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I was in Atlanta last week and the water shortage is beginning to take a toll on the livability of the city. The Olympic park looked really strange with no water at all, pretty much killing its ambience and making it eerily unfriendly. The restaurants are beginning to go to disposable plates and cups. And of course the grass in the suburbs is dying off and making formerly-lush lawns look dreary and unkempt (you can't cut dehydrated grass without killing it). It's not apocalyptic, but it's definitely taking a bite out of the luxury-appeal of places like Buckhead.

Kinda scary that we're starting to see where The Line is drawn... the line we have to cross before people start to wake up and enact real change in their private lives. If this is how serious a water shortage must get before people are willing to accept even moderate conservation measures, imagine how serious an oil shortage will have to get before our behavior starts to change en masse.

BTW, I understand that some in the Charlotte area are starting to drill private wells in order to bypass water restrictions. Did these people miss that day in 5th grade when they were supposed to cover aquifers and water cycles?

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In answer to the question about different levels of pricing based on how much water is used, CMUD already does this. For a single family home, not counting sewer bills, fees, etc., the rates are:

0 - 11 Ccf/mo.

$1.33

12-22 Ccf/mo

$2.18

> 22 Ccf/mo.

$4.31

Where 1 Ccf is 100 cubic feet (equal to 748 gallons of water). The average residential customer uses about 8.5 Ccf.

Irrigation meters are separate but have the same fee scale. Maybe they should revisit the pricing for that to make people think twice about watering their yards every day.

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That rate schedule is not what I am referring to. That is a price based on your water usage is graduated based on the individual's water usage, to prevent excess use. I am saying that water for your very first drop used should be, for example, $4.31 in times of drought. When gas supplies are low, you better believe my heating bill goes up because the rate goes up. But somehow we are in drought and have very low water supply, but everyone is still charged the same.

The answer to the original question on what can we do to get people to conserve water, and my belief is that other than for prevent extreme cases (which are fine for using fines or graduated rates), the only way to get everyone thinking about their water use and reducing it is to charge them more.

There are numerous ways to save water that are not socially desireable (mellow yellow, buckets in the shower, navy showers, low flow shower heads, xeriscaping, dirty cars, etc.). People just won't do all those things under normal conditions unless they uber-hippies. But in an extreme drought with no end in sight, those things might be necessary. The only way to do that in advance of running out of water is charge people a lot of money for their water, and they'll be willing to do all sorts of things to keep from using it.

People talk all the time about how much gas costs. It doesn't spark much behavioral change because it is still very affordable in a global and historical sense. If you price it to reduce demand (ie. cause conservation), then you'll not only get people talking but acting.

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Out of curiosity, is there any potential to dam another river branch and create a larger reserve for the future? Imagine where we'd be right now without the man-made lakes in the area.

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I believe that the next closest rivers are the Yadkin to the west and the Rocky to the east but I don't think it would be very economically viable. But if you think about it, damming the rivers are what got us into this problem to begin with.

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Damming another tributary of the Catawba would make it even harder to refill lake Norman. And it would make South Carolina scream louder about water supplies. I don't see it happening. We'll probably need to make wiser use of what we have.

Greensboro has been waiting for years to get the new reservoir at Randleman Dam filled, and that's the Yadkin basin. There's a lot less excess capacity all around.

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I was recently at regular business meeting of Council, and a drought update was provided. First let me say, there was no topic presented that evening where the speaker enjoyed a more rapt audience from Council. Absolutely quiet....complete attention from every Council Member as well as attendees in the audience.

Level 4 could come by the second week in January and if there is no meaningful rainfall, there will be areas of the county that will be threatened for water at the tap by late March. I feel like I have to qualify that statement and say "I'm not kidding"....they actually said that. I found that shocking. Maybe it's exaggeration for effect, but I wonder......

It felt sort of hopeless.

I agree that prices should go up, but I don't agree with Dubone's approach.

Dubone...you are already using a greatly limited amount of water...being responsible....as it appears some others are from what they have said. Your base rate should not be impacted. IMHO, a scale should be maintained (not unlike the one currently in place), but the price trending milestones should be more aggressive....the price should go up quicker and the pain more pronounced along the way.

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I respect what you are saying, Conformity, but I still hold firm that personal responsibility is always going to just be a niche. When sweeping change is needed, you either need punitive pricing, incentive pricing, or strict law and order. In our society, pricing works best for creating change and demand.

This is a serious serious sitution. Not only are we at risk for drinking water, but also power. I must say, it would be one of interesting situations if the entire south east ran out of water. It would actually be cataclysmic, but it might actually be a much needed wakeup call for our society's waste and ignorance. I'm obviously not wishing it, but if a severe drought can get our politicians and people serious about curbing greenhouse gases, and reducing certain types of wasteful consumption, that it might be a necessary evil.

For you guys thinking that we can suddenly create water by just plugging another river need to start looking at how other cities and river systems are faring. The Yadkin river valley is struggling, just look at the levels on High Rock or Badin. We all know how Alabama and Georgia are doing.

The fact is, global warming causes flooding in some places and droughts and desertification in others. I'm sure the drought will end at some point, but I bet we can expect more over the long haul. Something's gotta give.

Soon we'll be hoping for our hurricanes back.

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For you guys thinking that we can suddenly create water by just plugging another river need to start looking at how other cities and river systems are faring. The Yadkin river valley is struggling, just look at the levels on High Rock or Badin. We all know how Alabama and Georgia are doing.

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Good points. I understand what you are saying now. I think that part of the picture needs to be to end the madness of 1/3 acre plots for everyone. R-3 zoning is a scourge that create millions of acres that need irrigation just for vanity yards. In small yards, the per capita water use for irrigation is much lower, but on the fringes, there might be irrigation, but it is for farming rather than the grass grow-cut cycle of waste. I think an alternative to banning these types of plots is to simply require a grey water system to pull from the shower and sinks for irrigating lawns. It saves us from having to treat that water which pretty much just has soap in it (grey water systems do basic treatment for bacteria and stuff), while also having the water do double duty for both hygiene and irrigation. That also obviously saves the drinking water supply from being drained for people's yards.

There are also things that can be done like either banning top load clothes washers, or incentivizing front loaders. That is a great way to reduce water use, with out actually reducing the benefits from the water. I know that arid states do this regularly to reduce water waste.

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To answer the question about another dam, it would be very expensive and mired with legal issues over property rights. When they built the Cowans Ford dam for Lake Norman, it flooded 36,000 acres. Likewise Mountain Island Lake is 6500+ acres and Lake Wylie is either 13,000 or 16,000 acres (can't remember which). So the 3 dams in the Charlotte area put close to 60,000 acres underwater.

These days the Charlotte area is very populated and developed and I can't imagine any area, within practical distance, where they could build another lake that would suffice for Charlotte's needs.

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There is all the the water you want, just 200 miles east of Charlotte, all you have to do is take the salt out of the water. There is about 1/4 pound of salt in sea water. Sell the salt and use the water. :ermm:

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^ Desalinization is cost-prohibitive, which is why it's not used in places that have other options. Even as bad as things have gotten I don't think the legislature would be able to come up with the budget necessary for desalinization plants.

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