Facing dire warnings that Falls Lake could go dry this summer or fall, at least one member of Raleigh's City Council is asking whether the fast-growing city needs a temporary growth moratorium.
During a Tuesday meeting about the drought, City Council member Rodger Koopman raised the idea of a pause in building. Other city officials quickly objected.
Many Raleigh residents and business owners who are being asked to use less and less water agree with Koopman. They wonder why the city keeps letting new homes, stores, industries and other users tap into the system.
"How can the city of Raleigh continue to allow uncontrolled developing and building if there is not sufficient water for the existing homes and businesses?" asked resident Allan Marquis, 61, a retired railroad manager. "It is all about money — greed — versus common sense."
City Manager Russell Allen said a moratorium wouldn't help in time for this drought, for two reasons: Building permits that have already been issued can't be rescinded, and construction that hasn't started probably would outlast the drought. He said that Raleigh's policy needs to take into account that a moratorium would hurt the city's economy.
"What's the economic impact of running out of water?" Koopman replied.
Despite the drought, Raleigh’s population grew last year by an estimated 4.2 percent, or almost 15,000 people.
Raleigh issued 8,675 building permits last year, with more than half being issued after the official declaration of drought.
Meeker: Not right now
Mayor Charles Meeker opposes a moratorium on growth.
"It's not a good idea right now," Meeker said in a recent interview. "Even if you stopped all the hookups today, you'd only save 1 or 2 percent of our water over the next year. It wouldn't be a significant factor."
At the same time, Meeker said, a moratorium "might put our economy into a recession."
Homebuilders and other local business interests strongly oppose a halt in development, claiming a development moratorium could devastate the local economy.
"You don't want to impose any more economic damage on a community than is absolutely required," Harvey Schmitt, president of the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce said.
Raleigh's conservation efforts are working and should continue, he said. "Growth is not the problem. The drought is the problem. " As the drought continues, however, the moratorium idea is growing popular among residents.
"Charles Meeker and the city are too late," said Joel Youngblood, Garner engineer whose water comes from Raleigh. "They needed to stop lawn watering and new development last summer to conserve water. The cause is not the 'old' water consumers not conserving — there is only so much that can be done — it is the rapid and wasteful addition of new customers."
Dean Naujoks, an environmental activist who focuses on the Neuse River, sympathizes with those calling for a pause in development. "I think it may become necessary," he said. "Had we gone to conservation sooner, we may have more options on the table."
Source: Drought and Development (2008)
By Matthew Eisley, "As water levels sink, houses likely will continue to rise." The News & Observer of Raleigh, North Carolina. February 20, 2008.