Charlotte conserves water to stem shortage

Charlotte conserves water to stem shortage

by YaShekia King

Who would've thought the centuries-old technique of catching rainwater in a barrel could keep Lowell Markins' shrubs from ending up on the rocks?

Markins, an Angie's List member who lives in Lake Wylie, S.C., says that for several years he and wife, Mary Ellen, have harvested rainwater by attaching three connected rain barrels to a downspout on one corner of their roof. They then use a hose hooked to the drain valve to fill a can for plant watering. A thunderstorm that dumps an inch of rain can provide 150 gallons of water — enough to last about four to six weeks for their shrubs, flowering bulbs and annuals. It's a godsend, so to speak, in light of Charlotte's record drought and related water restrictions stretching back to 2007.

That's not the only water collecting they do. While waiting for the shower water to warm up, they capture that clean water in a bucket for their dogs, cats and front-yard plants. And they use low-flow showerheads that can reduce the flow to a trickle while someone's soaping up.

"We're not environmental extremists," says Lowell Markins, who estimates they've saved $600 on water bills - almost 300,000 gallons. "We're normal people trying to be mindful [that we] have an impact on the world around us."

They're just two of many Charlotte-area residents who've been watching every drop lately, even as officials say their drought level at the start of this year dropped from last year's Stage 3 to Stage 2. The drought stems from below-average rainfall coupled with record-high temperatures, thus diminishing levels in the 225-mile-long Catawba River - the area's only source of drinking water.

The area has restricted outdoor water usage since August 2007. The Stage 3 restrictions banned car washing and pool filling and limited lawn watering to one day a week. Those restrictions have eased under Stage 2: lawn watering, car washing and pool-filling are limited to two days a week. Throughout, officials have exhorted residents to voluntarily limit water use, something Angie's List member Damien Edelen of Belmont took to heart. She uses two rain barrels and a watering can to water her new plantings. Edelen also uses drip irrigation for shrub borders and cherry trees, and makes her own compost to retain soil moisture. "I managed to keep stuff alive that would've been lost otherwise and saved hundreds of dollars in plants," she says.

George Van Horn, president of A-rated Van Horn Home Inspection Services in Mint Hill, spent $400 on a hot water recirculation loop in his home to decrease his water usage while waiting for hot water in the shower. It's saved him 17,000 gallons a year.

Edelen attributes her garden habits in part to her frugal New England background of "waste not, want not." She'd like to see conservation more widely embraced.

"The real fix for all this is for communities to bite the bullet and restrict growth to the amount that the water supply will reasonably allow and to require all new development to incorporate water conservation technology like buried rainwater cisterns hooked to the ubiquitous suburban irrigation systems," she says.

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