In Drought, Upscale Homeowners Dig for Water It used to be almost unheard of for people served by public water systems to dig wells in their yards. But as public systems impose watering restrictions because of drought, private irrigation wells are becoming more common — especially in wealthy neighborhoods.
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In Drought, Upscale Homeowners Dig for Water

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In Drought, Upscale Homeowners Dig for Water

In Drought, Upscale Homeowners Dig for Water

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Many Southeastern cities have banned or limited water use outdoors, which is bad news for landscapers and gardeners.

NPR's Adam Hochberg reports on just how far people will go to keep their yards green.

ADAM HOCHBERG: Like a lot of homeowners around Raleigh, North Carolina, Jorge Pericchi sees the effects of the drought each time he steps outside his house. Since his community water system started restricting how often he can water his lawn and garden, Pericchi has watched parts of his manicured landscape wilt and die.

Mr. JORGE PERICCHI (Landscaper): This grass is all brown, halfway dead.

HOCHBERG: And you've lost a number of your shrubs, I can see that.

Mr. PERICCHI: That's right. We took several that were dead down that way and a couple are right there.

HOCHBERG: Lost a bunch of stuff?


HOCHBERG: While brown grass and thirsty shrubs have become common in this part of the country, it's especially hard for Pericchi to see them in his own yard because he makes his living in the landscape business. So last week, he decided to do something about it.

Pericchi hired a crew to drill a well in his front yard so he'll have water for his garden and grass. Unlike municipal and community water supplies, private wells like this aren't subject to conservation rules, so Pericchi now can irrigate as often as he wants. The well cost more than $3,000, but he says it's worth it to preserve his landscaping.

Mr. PERICCHI: You put a lot of effort into making sure it looks great. And when you lose your plants and sod, and we thought we were going to lose 15,000 square feet of sod. It was completely dead.

HOCHBERG: It used to be almost unheard of for people who are already served by public water systems to dig wells in their yards. But as those public systems impose watering restrictions because of the drought, private irrigation wells are becoming more common, especially in upscale neighborhoods like this one.

Jason Poole, who drilled Perrichi's irrigation well, says his company has installed dozens of them lately for Raleigh homeowners.

Mr. JASON POOLE ( Well Driller): This summer alone, I'll say, at least 50 already. And now, we've got a whole stock of them that big to drill.

HOCHBERG: What kind of folks are they?

Mr. POOLE: Normal American folks…


Mr. POOLE: …that want to water their flowers.

HOCHBERG: Still, all that flower watering from private irrigation wells has begun to concern some North Carolina officials, who've watched as the drought has lowered the water table and dried up lakes and reservoirs. The resort town of Pinehurst, last month, imposed a moratorium on new irrigation wells in an attempt to preserve the underground water supply. Other North Carolina communities are seeking state authority to restrict existing wells.

John Morris heads the North Carolina Division of Water Resources.

Mr. JOHN MORRIS (Director, North Carolina Division of Water Resources): Putting in new wells for irrigation, it may affect some neighbors who are dependent on their wells, not just for irrigation, but for their ordinary complete domestic water supply. And so there is danger of that.

HOCHBERG: Morris says it's hard to gauge the impact of any individual irrigation well. It depends on such factors as the local geology and who else might be using groundwater nearby. Still, Morris says even if a well isn't directly causing problems for its neighbors, there still are good reasons to turn it off during the drought, reasons that have to do with shared sacrifice and what he calls moral equality.

Mr. MORRIS: We all need to conserve this essential resource together. And it's sort of like your mother telling you to eat your green peas because children in other parts of the world don't have enough to eat. And maybe the practical effect of that is not great, but it does get across the very essential point that water is a critical resource and we need to use it carefully and conserve it.

HOCHBERG: As he continued to watch his well being drilled, Jorge Perrichi said he understands the idea of conservation and said even with his new well, he plans to water as little as possible.

Meanwhile, demand for irrigation wells remains strong as the drought chose no signs of letting up. In this county alone, permits have been issued for more than 25 new ones in the past six weeks.

Adam Hochberg, NPR News.

INSKEEP: The southeastern drought could mean that Christmas trees are more expensive, not because of fewer trees are not going to die but because tree farmers have had to spend a lot more money keeping them healthy in such dry conditions.


And here's another chapter in the history of the Department of Water and Power. That's the ominously named Los Angeles Agency featured in the movie "Chinatown." The department that keeps millions of people supplied with water wants people to use less of it. It's reactivating a program called Drought Busters. Employees will patrol the city looking for people watering the lawn too much or spraying the sidewalk. They'll get some advice on how to water less. L.A.'s top water official warns, though, that if this friendly approach isn't enough, mandatory conservation could be coming.

INSKEEP: And as dry as some parts of the United States, maybe Australia is drier. The southern continent has suffered from drought for a decade, then water is so short that it's affecting brewers. Companies including Foster's, have slashed the amount of water that they need for the brewing process, which puts them in good position because officials in one Australian state have now ordered all businesses to cut their water use by 25 percent.

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