North Carolina Urges Water Conservation

North Carolina's governor is calling on citizens to save a gallon of water every day. His request came as North Carolina and other southern states suffer from a major drought that has left parts of the region in danger of running out of water in the next several months.

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Many Southern states are suffering through a major drought. There's little rain in the forecast and without it climatologists say the water source for more than three million people could run dry in just 90 days.

In North Carolina, the governor is urging citizens to save a gallon of water every day. But voluntary measures aren't always enough.

As NPR's Adam Hochberg reports, some cities have gotten tough on people who use too much water.

ADAM HOCHBERG: Greensboro, North Carolina began restricting residents water use in August as its reservoir began getting dangerously low.

And since then, city employee Jeff Denny(ph) says he's acquired quite a few nicknames around town.

Mr. JEFF DENNY (Water Department Employee): I've heard all kinds of names - the Enforcer, the Water Police, Sprinkler Stalker. I've heard a rumor, Water Nazi. Which it don't bother me.

HOCHBERG: Denny works Greensboro's water department. And for the past several weeks, part of his job has been to drive through neighborhoods looking for people violating the city's new conservation rules.

He patrols the streets before dawn, when automatic sprinklers often are programmed to operate. Though the city has banned their use because of the drought, Denny has caught dozens of homes and businesses still running them.

Mr. DENNY: There are a lot of people that have been cited that have admitted that they were wrong, and then there are some that just don't care.

Look here. Oh yeah. They're in violation.

HOCHBERG: Denny comes upon this house in an upscale neighborhood where the sprinklers are blasting out streams of water.

As he does at every house where he see sprinklers on, he snaps a photo, writes down the address. And to let the homeowner know the city is serious about enforcement, he cuts off the water supply to the irrigation system.

Mr. DENNY: Watch - watch this. Watch the sprinklers right there (unintelligible) they are off now.

HOCHBERG: So now what happens? They going to get up - they're going to get out of bed and figure out their sprinklers aren't working.

Mr. DENNY: Yeah. Yeah. They've been caught, you know? And when they call us or they get that fine in the mail, they'll know.

HOCHBERG: Greensboro's fines range from a hundred dollars to as much as a thousand for repeat offenders. The city says it's levied about a hundred fines so far.

Water Resources Director Allan Williams says he realizes the restrictions are causing lawns to turn brown. But he says the city has little choice as its reservoir gets lower and the drought shows no signs of letting up.

Mr. ALLAN WILLIAMS (Water Resources Director, Greensboro, North Carolina): This is a serious problem that we all have to take seriously. And we understand there's going to be economic and even emotional hardship in letting some of this go. But we are 250,000 people that depend on this water supply and they don't depend on green grass.

HOCHBERG: Indeed, green grass is becoming increasingly rare in the entire southeast, as communities from Virginia to Alabama have imposed watering bans.

And leaders in some areas are going further to save water. Chester, South Carolina has outlawed charity car washes. The state of Tennessee has closed some highway rest areas, and North Carolina Governor Mike Easley yesterday urged citizens to cut back water use, both outdoors and in.

Governor MIKE EASLEY (Democrat, North Carolina): For instance, when brushing your teeth, you don't leave the water running during those two minutes it takes to brush your teeth. And guys, when you're shaving, you don't have to leave the water running. Do the old dip like we used to back on the farm.

HOCHBERG: Easley called on local governments that haven't yet imposed water restrictions to do so soon to prevent an emergency that he says could leave some cities without water by early next year. That means some communities likely will be imposing sprinkler bans like the one in Greensboro. Easley says even the grass at the state capitol will be allowed to turn brown.

Adam Hochberg, NPR News.

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