Demand is high and supply is low, so the city of Fairhope is requesting its residential water customers to conserve excess water until the area recovers from a prolonged drought.
A special-called City Council meeting yesterday, Utilities Superintendent Jay Whitman said the system is operating at 100 percent capacity, and the city’s two storage towers are not able to recover the previous day’s usage.
Currently, customers are using more than 8 million gallons per day, a number that has increased during the drought as many people are irrigating their lawns. The supply problem was exacerbated by a broken water main recently and currently, one of the city’s primary wells is also offline.
This morning, the National Weather Service in Mobile issued a statement indicating Mobile and Baldwin counties “is now experiencing moderate to severe drought conditions … A lengthy period of dry conditions and much below normal precipitation has resulted in a continued worsening trend in local drought conditions over the Gulf coast.” In fact, “May 2020 currently stands [as the] driest on record so far,” the statement said.
The NWS noted Fairhope normally records more than 23 inches of rain year-to-date, but this year, has only recorded 13.58 inches.
Whitman said the water pressure in the city is as low as he’s seen it in 17 years, and his primary concern is that if it falls any further, fire protection capabilities may be degraded. Even if residential customers were to shut off their irrigation systems today, it would take 48-72 hours to decrease to a more comfortable 90 percent capacity, he said.
In a 4-1 vote with Councilman Robert Brown dissenting, the City Council passed an ordinance (see below) that provides three phases of water restrictions, but enacted only the first, voluntary phase. Until capacity recovers, the city is asking residential water customers to cease irrigating their lawns. Commercial uses, such as golf courses, HOA properties and farms will not be restricted at this time.
The ordinance, which will be enacted into law later this month, defines the Phase 1 restrictions as a “water alert,” the Phase 2 restrictions as a “water warning” and the Phase 3 restrictions as a “water emergency.” The latter two phases are mandatory, with the third prohibiting irrigation and power washing, and restricting certain other water uses to just two days per week. The council did carve out a waiver for new lawns, providing that they can be irrigated up to 30 days after installation.
In mandatory phases, violators may be issued municipal citations and be subject to fines.
Mayor Karin Wilson said the ordinance was “a good policy” and she didn’t expect it would be “used much.” Afterward, she told Lagniappe “the main reason” the city was in the predicament was the drought, but it was “compounded by water leaks” from an inadequate pipe installed by a developer around 20 years ago. In a Facebook post, she elaborated that her administration is “catching up on many years of neglected maintenance and needed upgrades.”
Whitman said the city is working with an engineering firm to determine long-term solutions to increasing water capacity, but warned the council that drilling a new well is a timely and expensive process.
Ordinance - Emergency Water Conservation Plan - 05-13-20
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