Dependable Erection

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Some drought updates

First, i've noticed that the City of Durham's water supply status page is now showing Teer Quarry separate from the two main reservoirs. That's a good move, as it provides more useful information and comparisons to where we were earlier in the drought before Teer came online.
Current Conditions
Days of Supply

Using the 30-day running average demand as of February 24, 2008 of 19.82 MGD:

* Days of supply of easily accessible, premium water remaining (Lake Michie, Little River Reservoir): 161 days
* Days in Teer Quarry storage remaining: 19 days
* Days of less accessible water below the intake structures remaining: 61 days
* Total days of supply = 241

I'm still not a big fan of using the "less accessible water" number in calculating the total days of supply. Let's face it, if we get to the point where we're using the "less accessible water" we're in a lot of trouble.

Lake Michie is now only 3' 4" away from being "full." I put full in quotes because it's actually gone a bit higher without flooding in the past. It's still below where it's been in all but two of the past ten years for the end of February. Current inflows following the precipitation of the past few days are higher than demand, so Lake Michie could be very close to capacity by the end of the week. Michael asked a few days ago whether water could be pumped from Lake Michie to Little River if it tops out. Little River is well below capacity, and capturing more of that water from Lake Michie would make sense. I haven't seen anyone asnwer that question, though.

I'm also assuming that the Eno is flowing high enough that the city is able to take its full allotment of 5 million gallons per day to store in the Teer reservoir. Teer theoretically holds about 30 days supply, so there's more room there as well.

Bad news is there's not a lot of rain in the forecast for the next 10 days. Demand through February has, except for a couple of spikes, remained fairly constant at about 21 and a half mgd. That's about a 13% reduction from February 07. And that's the really troublesome figure.

There's two items relating to this that i've seen recently, but with as busy as i've been this week, i'm going to put htem out there without links until i get a chance to go back and source them. One is from a City Council meeting a couple of weeks ago, that i think BCR covered, in which it emerged that Durham's Jordan Lake allocation may not be as rock solid as people were anticipating, especially if the drought persists through the summer and Cary is more affected than it has been. I've said in the past that i think it's a mistake to figure on the 2-4 mgd that we're currently drawing from Jordan in our total supply figure for that specific reason. Hopefully it won't come to that. But if you spend any time looking at the history of water rights battles in regions where water is traditionally a scarce resource, you can make the reasonable assumption that things will not go any differently here should we reach that scenario.

The second item was in the paper over the past couple of days. And it had to do with, i think, the mayor of Carrboro opposing any additional intakes from Jordan Lake from Durham until the city and county revisit some of our development policies. This is a potentially major event,as it shows where fault lines could develop among local governments in the event that the drought does continue. As we've pointed out several times, the drought is at least as much a function of demand as of supply. Our water supply is not that much lower than it's been at times over the past 50 years. But our demand is much higher. Durham County commissioners are on the ballot later this year. I imagine this will be a local hot button issue.

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  • Barry,

    Good analysis. A couple of thoughts:

    1) Buried in an update I did earlier this week on the drought and last Thu's City Council meeting a couple of days ago ( is confirmation that, yes, the City is going to be pumping excess water from Michie into the Little River Reservoir.

    2) It is the case that Raleigh may ask for a Jordan Lake allocation (something I will be blogging about shortly I suspect.) That said, it's important to keep in mind that Jordan Lake has been okayed by environmental regulators (I assume DENR) to provide 100 MGD of drinking water.

    Only about two-thirds of that amount is currently allocated at all to municipalities. Expect Durham to ask for an allocation increase; expect Raleigh to try to get some water too.

    On the one hand, Raleigh drawing from Jordan would be an interbasin transfer, which the state frowns upon. My read from Voorhees last week is that the state is pushing Durham to Jordan Lake to better preserve the Falls Lake watershed (of which our N. Durham sources are upstream) for Raleigh.

    Still, Raleigh's got a shot at getting some water. But it's not like there's not enough there to crowd out Durham. Also, these decisions are made by the state and should be fairly balanced.

    3) Given that Kevin Foy is behind the second intake partnership, Carrboro's chances of blocking that addition are, I suspect, about as good as seeing a John Birch Society rally in front of the Weaver Street Market.

    By Blogger Kevin, at 11:08 AM  

  • Thanks, Kevin. Good news about being able to move water between Lake Michie and Little River. I assume that's a two way connection that could be used if the situation were reversed and Little River was at capacity, but Michie was not.

    I guess my point on the "water wars" (to hype things beyond where they should be) is that should the situation deteriorate this year or at some point in the future, past agreements are not guarantees of future actions. We (meaning the Piedmont region) have been blessed with an abundance of water throughout much of our history. It's too early to tell, i think, whether that is changing, or whether recent years are an anomaly.

    If it is the case that water is no longer an abundant resource, but is becoming a limiting factor, then expect some if not all of the existing agreements to share water to become contentious, if not completely irrelevant.

    By Blogger Barry Ragin, at 11:25 AM  

  • Oh, absolutely agreed, Barry. And we need to start making better decisions -- including strict conservation. I'm pissed to see people commenting on the idiot boards (hi, Jimmy Goodmon!) crap like "THIS DROUGHT IS A HOAX." Eugene "Flush It Down Only If It's" Brown said he got the same reaction at First Presbyterian the other week, too.

    But we should keep in mind that when we think about Serious Water Conflict, Jordan Lake's status combined with our growth means we're thinking... two decades away, perhaps?

    By Blogger Kevin, at 11:33 AM  

  • I wouldn't want to speculate on how long current agreements might be good for. I think 20 years, though, is a bit optimistic. Let's see what lake levels look like come mid-September.

    By Blogger Barry Ragin, at 11:45 AM  

  • If there is no immediate threat (or at least nothing visually and no personal experience) then some of these sentiments won't change. Water levels and showing what people's conservation has done would be a good reward.

    By Blogger allenk, at 11:58 PM  

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