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Drought Watch in WNC



The ongoing drought has led to water restrictions being in some communities in North Carolina.  According to NC Division of Water Resources, a total of 43 public water systems, or 8% of those tracked across the state, have instituted voluntary conservation measures while 12 systems, including Woodfin, are under mandatory conservation because of the drought.

The City of Asheville has not enforced conservation measures. WCQS's Helen Chickering spoke with Jade Dundas, director of the Asheville Water Resources Department. 

HC: What kind of phone calls, input from citizens are you getting this time of year?

JD: The normal things are there the water line breaks, the bills, but with the circumstances, the drought that we’ve been having we have been receiving quite a few calls on that. It’s great that  people have been calling on that. There is a curiosity they want to be educated and they certainly want to make sure we are looking into and monitoring the situation and that we’re going to act appropriately.

One of the things that is hard for people to understand is how why are we not in conservation at this point. It’s been a dry year, in comparison it’s been  very similar to 2007, but we have done things since 2007 to bolster our supply.

HC: Could you elaborate and help us understand where  Asheville gets its water?

Credit WCQS
Jade Dundas, Director of the Asheville Water Resources Department

JD: We do have three sources we use as a supply . One is down in Henderson county, off the Mills River.  We have two other reservoirs in Black mountain Swannanoa area, one is a small reservoir, Bee Tree  and also North Fork reservoir.    

Last time we were in conservation we were not operating Bee Tree at that time. Due to some planning just trying to figure out how we can have adequate supply in the future, decisions were made to start bee tree back up.   That puts about 3 million gallons of water into our system a day.  We typically have a daily demand of about 20 million. So with Bee tree is about 15 percent of our supply.

HC: So right now, is Asheville in a watch and wait situation?

JD: we’re monitoring system weekly with a 10 week forecast model that shows us basically what the lake levels are anticipated to be in 10 weeks.  That’s really what we are using to monitor when we need enact conservation.

HC: If that happens, what will it look like?

JD: We have three levels of conservation. One is voluntary, one is mandatory and the third is where we actually put a surcharge.    The drought has an impact, it definitely does, but at this point in time we feel like with the water supply we have, we’re still in good shape.  That’s really what are policies are based off of, and what we are using to monitor when we need enact conservation…

HC: Has the recent rain had any impact?

JD:  Everything help, we got some reports from reservoirs that we got an inch of rain from first round of storms we had, um it felt like we should celebrate, anything is positive.. We really hope to get some additional rain,

One of the unique things I’ve learned in my experience here is that the impact of the rain event in the summer vs. winter is significantly different. The trees, leaf cover on the trees can actually prevent a lot of rain from running off into the reservoirs.  If we’re going to have an inch of rain, or two inches or how much rain we have, it is more impactful this time of year than it would be than like spring or summer

HC: Conservation tips you’d like to share with the public?

JD: We certainly encourage people all the time to use water wisely, even our voluntary conservation is going to encourage people to wash full loads of laundry, dishes, outside irrigation is something that has kind of tapered off right now, so that would be something we’d strongly encourage if we were having this discussion in the summer. Take shorter showers, 5 minutes shower instead of 15 minute showers, if you have  leaky toilet that’s been nagging for a while now would be a good time to take care of it.  A lot of these measures that can save water can also save on your utility bill as well.

To see the NC water conservation map click here

For more conservation tips and information about Asheville's water system click here

Helen Chickering is a host and reporter on Blue Ridge Public Radio. She joined the station in November 2014.