With warm weather comes more water use, and Concord officials are promoting conservation throughout Cabarrus County to protect and preserve its limited water sources.
The city of Concord is the largest supplier of water throughout the county, and recent droughts served as catalysts for the city to hold itself - and its commercial, industrial and residential customers - to higher conservation standards for the last five years.
The city's main reservoirs - two man-made impoundments: Lake Howell and Lake Fisher - are full, but Putnam said months of prolonged drought conditions can deplete the area's only source of water and cause mandatory or emergency restrictions.
The city's stringent conservation standards are the first line of defense in protecting a life-sustaining, finite resource.
"We meet or are better than any standards currently in place with water quality and conservation efforts," said Christie Putnam, water resources director for Concord's Water and Stormwater Services department. "We perform better than the state requires us to."
Concord's five levels of water restrictions range from "normal responsible water use" to "emergency mandatory" restrictions. Cabarrus residents have been at "Level 0" since April 2009. Concord customers can irrigate only three days a week while other areas allow it daily or at-will, said Putnam.
Water use in Cabarrus averages about eight million gallons per day during winter months, and summer usage has peaked at 14 million gallons per day. A family of four uses about 4,800 gallons per month, 160 gallons per day, for $45 a month.
"We're not even doubling our peak usage in the summer, but we are limited in the amount of water that we have, and it's all dependent upon how much water drains into (our reservoirs)," said Putnam. "Because we don't have large drainage areas and they're not large water impoundments, we have a limited amount of water we can draw from those lakes. And you can't drain them, so there's a limited amount of storage that's available in the lakes we have. Right now, our reservoirs are not an issue. Barring no rain, we're good for a couple months, but then we start to get nervous."
According to the city's data, average rainfall for the area was about 41 inches per year from 1998 to 2010. Recent droughts in 2007 and 2009 recorded 30 inches and 21 inches of rainfall respectively. They are the two lowest annual accumulations since 1998. The 2007 drought restrictions reached Level 3.
"The biggest difference is up until the last 10 or 12 years, we've been a very water-rich area, and we really haven't had to worry about conservation," said Putnam, who has worked with four other local water systems, including Charlotte. "We find conservation as important, if not more important, than the revenue. Typically, if regulations are more stringent somewhere else, there's something driving it other than just a desire to practice conservation."
As part of the recent Interbasin Transfer agreement, efforts are under way to design a state-approved water line that will allow the city to draw up to 10 millions gallons per day from the Yadkin/Pee Dee River basin.
Expected to start in mid-2014, Putnam said Cabarrus County users will only draw about 2 million gallons per day. All water-line projects are funded by users of the system, and no tax money is used, said Putnam.
"We are pursuing any grant opportunities that may arise at the state or federal level and do have a grant for almost $1 million from the EPA to assist with the construction of the line," she said. W.K. Dickson Engineering of Charlotte is designing the infrastructure, which is a joint venture for Concord, Kannapolis and Albemarle. The current total project cost is estimated at $21 million, and the contractor for construction will be chosen after the design is complete and bids are awarded, Putnam said.
As part of the interbasin agreement, the state also will allow Cabarrus County to draw 10 million gallons per day from the Catawba River, Charlotte's water source, but work on a water line would come after the Yadkin project.
The total draw of 20 million gallons per day was projected to support future development for 40 years, said Putnam.
During the approval process, the Catawba Riverkeepers rallied more than 1,300 citizens to attended meetings and oppose the dual interbasin transfer requested by the cities of Concord and Kannapolis.
The N.C. Environmental Management Commission approved the transfer, but because of opposition, the amount was reduced to 10 million gallons per day, less than half the amount requested by the cities.
Riverkeepers say the transfer will affect the environmental health and ecological diversity of the Catawba River Basin. Those against the transfer have filed an appeal to the state's decision to allow it.
Water levels in the Catawba basin measured by the Catawba-Wateree Water Management Group (CWWMG) are low.
"Concord also follows restrictions from the CWWMG," said Putnam. "If their reservoir levels keep dropping, then their restrictions are going to be higher than ours, and we'll fall in line with those because of the IBT regulations."