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Outdoor watering facing severe limits

A plan to allocate Union County's limited water capacity in the western sections calls for limiting outdoor watering to once a week for years to come, and could ban all outdoor irrigation.

Union County commissioners got their first look last week at how the county intends to allocate 1.9 million gallons of water per day in spare capacity. A public hearing on a proposed allocation policy is scheduled for 7 p.m. Oct. 6.

Commissioner Lanny Openshaw said he is concerned the policy could lead to curbs on all outdoor irrigation until the county gets more water capacity, which is years away.

“This policy essentially guarantees no residential irrigation,” he said.

Union County's water-treatment capacity has strained under breakneck growth in the last 10 years. Officials are weighing plans to expand capacity by as much as 51 million gallons per day over the next nine years. But the first long-term expansion – buying more water from Anson County – is not expected until at least 2010.

The recommended policy by county public works staff and HDR Engineering Inc., a Charlotte consultant, hinges on the county keeping one-day-per-week outdoor watering restrictions.

That plan predicts about 1.9 million gallons per day in spare capacity for western Union County. That's where most of the demand is. The area is served by the Catawba River water treatment plant, jointly owned by Union and Lancaster County, S.C.

The policy spells out 150 projects – commercial, residential and governmental – that are to get allocations. Commercial developments are preferred over residential, but any project that already has a water permit or has applied for one gets the best spot in line.

Commissioner Allan Baucom said most of the projects are not expected to be built at the same time. This means the county should be able to obtain additional capacity, either through buying from outside water systems or by expanding its current operations.

But the draft policy states that the demand created by projects – about 3.4 million gallons per day – would exceed the added capacity, even with residents under once-a-week water restrictions. So “mandatory water-use restrictions that permit no outdoor irrigation may need to be imposed to allow for this continued development,” the policy states.

“I don't want us to exceed our capacity, period,” Baucom said. “The policy gives us a good perspective on where we are, what's committed to on a timeline on when we expect those commitments to take place.”

The county has imposed forms of water restrictions since June 2007. Other systems in the Charlotte region soon followed suit in response to a worsening drought. As the drought eased in recent months, many other systems have relaxed restrictions, including Monroe and, as of Thursday, Charlotte.

Union County customers, however, remain under once-a-week outdoor lawn watering restrictions, a result of the county's slim capacity. County officials have said it's unlikely that the restriction will be lifted any time soon.