October 3, 2008

City Relaxes Watering Restrictions

By Matt Garfield / [email protected]

A bailout plan of sorts for the fall planting season won approval Tuesday, clearing the way for homeowners in Rock Hill and much of York County to water their yards twice a week through November.

The change takes effect immediately within city limits. Other jurisdictions that buy water from Rock Hill, including Fort Mill and York County, have said they would switch to the same policy.

A landscaper applauded the move, saying it will encourage homeowners to plant trees, shrubs and bushes needed to prevent erosion and silt buildup in local streams.

"We're not putting plants in the ground because of the drought," said landscape architect Scott Reister of Rock Hill. "That can really hurt us over the years. To discourage new planting carries a lot of long-term ill effects."

But the loosening drew opposition from Mayor Doug Echols, who questioned whether too many changes would cause the public to grow confused about the seriousness of the drought. Echols cast the City Council's lone "no" vote but lost 4 to 1. Councilmen Jim Reno and Osbey Roddey were absent.

Though he wants homeowners to enjoy the same rights as neighboring communities, Echols said he's unclear why more watering makes sense if the area is still in a severe drought.

"I don't think we're helping to solve the problem," Echols said before the meeting. "This is like we're trying to put a Band-Aid on this thing in a way I don't feel is appropriate for the long term. I think it's a bigger long-term issue than us saying, 'Well, we've got water, so we ought to water.'"

A regional drought committee headed by Duke Power gave the OK to relax watering restrictions last week after reporting improved lake levels along the Catawba River. Charlotte made the change last week.

"Obviously, we've gotten a little rain and that's good," Echols said. "But the water level is up because Duke Power controls the level. It's not up because we're backing our way out of these drought conditions."

Echols renewed his call for a more consistent approach that puts water restrictions in line with how Duke defines the severity of the drought.

Duke OK'd the change after determining a two-month duration would not have a big impact on water levels. The timing is right because cooler fall temperatures translate into less water evaporation on Lake Wylie.

"This is the time of year where anything that's planted has the best chance of survival," said Duke spokeswoman Lindy Atwell. "Residents should see this as an opportunity to improve their lawns. It's absolutely not an obligation. It's an opportunity."

In Rock Hill, customers can apply for special waivers allowing them to water one extra day - for a total of three watering days - after putting in new plantings. To apply, call a city hotline at 327- 5594 or visit cityofrockhill.com.

Matt Garfield 329-4063

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