North Carolina Collectively Cuts Water Consumption By a Third

Last week, the data-aggregating site Swivel (which we’ve discussed before) posted a chart showing the recent and dramatic drop in North Carolina’s water demand. The reduction occurred after Governor Mike Easley, in the face of a state-wide drought, issued a plea to North Carolina residents in mid-October, asking them to cut their water consumption in half by Halloween. He then asked public water systems to record the amount of water used daily in their regions, and compare them to average use for the same periods in August. On November 8, Easley announced the results of the experiment in a press release, which stated that:

…water utilities representing 72 percent of the 6.8 million customers served by public water systems responded to his call to provide information on water use. Early indications, based on an analysis of information from the 25 largest systems in the state, show an average drop in daily water use of nearly 30 percent from the month of August compared to the last week of October.

It’s true that the data may have been skewed somewhat by timing; the demand for water during hot North Carolina summers may automatically drop off as the weather cools and residents close their swimming pools, etc. Still, some regions saw dramatic declines, including Union County, which reported a nearly 48 percent decrease in water use between August and late October. For a state with a population of almost nine million, these results are impressive enough to warrant attention, and could be an indicator of an even more impressive trend: that people are willing, under the right circumstances, to act decisively and make sacrifices on behalf of the public good.


Way to go NC!

This is great news and a fine example of how the general public can embrace conservation by simply making some adjustments to their lifestyle. A smart next step would be to either mandate or provide incentives to new construction builds with dual-flush toilets and tankless water heaters.


Then you have this:

"While the Board is aware of the inconvenience presented by the heat and water restrictions, we believe that having neatly landscaped lawns of grass is of the utmost importance to our community," said a letter sent to the homeowners in August.


While not a native I've lived in NC for 17 years, and am myself amazed at the numbers. I think the main reason so many of us took this to heart was hearing the plea not only from our Governor but also local governments and water companies. Southerners don't listen to outsiders but will listen to one of their own.

The parts that shocked me, though, was learning that it's illegal (in some parts of the state anyway) to use gray water. I thought re-using dishwater and bathwater for flower beds, etc, was supposed to a good conservation technique. Is it illegal anywhere else? Is it that dangerous?


I thought I'd better give a like for clarification.


What? The market didn't decide the price of water? Say it ain't so! Oh, those pinko-commies in North Carolina, how dare they ask the consumers to demand less!



I think the Gov. was well aware of the effects timing would have before he opened his mouth.

I bet he knew he would benefit 25-35% through convenient timing and then on residents to a much smaller degree. The product, an impressive 48% aggregate.

What did he have to lose, nothing. And he stood to gain a good deal of credibility, of which politicians are always in need.


As a NC transplant, (been here 7 years and loved every minute of it) I'm not surprised. People realized that we have a crisis on our hands and I didn't hear anybody complaining even a little bit. IMHO, it wasn't so much a response to the governor's request as it was to the requests of local officials as Toni noted at #2.

Also, I'm not sure that it was the cessation of filling swimming pools, because this year you could have gone swimming on Halloween Day. I was running around in shorts and flip flops that day, since it was about 85 degrees.

And Syl, as always, you're off in a corner arguing with yourself. Who said anything about price? And there is no open market for water here, or pretty much anywhere else. The government controls the resource and we're running low. See any correlation there? I'm on well water (i.e., I own my own resource) and I've never had a problem. And don't even start about "sharing the aquifer... blah, blah, blah." I get that. And if the folks that lived in the former Soviet Union had owned the right to make as much bread as they wanted to, they never would have had to stand in line to buy it.

We're getting a little rain today across most of the state, but we're not out of the woods by a long shot.



Grey Water is OK for irrigation in the Bronx.
I've used this restroom many times.
Peein' for the environment, that's what I'm all about!


More interesting would be to compare this to Georgia's call for prayer. You know what they say, God helps those who follow let yellow mellow and brown flush it down.


Comparing these two time periods is less interesting then comparing it to the same time period last year. It seems odd that you compare the month of August with the last week of October and don't mention last years or the last ten years numbers.

I lived in North Carolina for a few years. After a hurricane, I was amazed how people took matters into their own hands. I had moved from Chicago where the press would have been filled with stories about the failure of government to solve problems following such natural disasters. In North Carolina they just started to rebuild right away. Of course extended families and church groups seem to play a larger role in the daily life.

So I think some things are a little different in North Carolina but the data set is a little iffy.



And what pray tell is the "corner" you've decided I'm in?

I pay for my water usage. I've paid for my water usage in Nebraska, South Dakota and Oklahoma, all states I've lived in for the past 5 years. I pay for water that I shower, wash my dishes and do my laundry. I also pay a separate price for my drinking water from the store, because you know, agri-business (Pioneer, Northrup King, Micogen, etc.) practices have ruined many local townships' aquifer water. There is a lot of calcium, nitrates and fecal matter that isn't supposed to be there.

Resources can be distributed in a number of ways. Private enterprise is one resource distribution system. Local co-ops are another. So is centrally controlled and planned resource distribution centers. Whatever your ideology (or personal choice of propaganda), don't put people in a rhetorical corner. It's not nice. Because you know what? Whatever schema you use to paint your universe to make everything holistic enough for rational thinking is likely off the mark. Just ask Ayn Rand how "independence" was achieved for her in New York City.

Just a few thoughts going your way. Take them as you will.



For some of us in NC, the obvious savings were nothing new. I have driven around in a dirty car for years, stopped watering my lawn when I had kids that trample everything in sight, and am a few years overdue on pressure-washing the house. We do not own a pool, we only run the dishwasher and washing machine with full loads, and we turn off the tap while shaving, shampooing and brushing teeth. We even let the yellow mellow, and have occasionally let the brown hang around when someone else is knocking at the door. Collecting grey water is impractical with our lifestyle - if we had a simple way to install a water reclaimation system in our house, I would look for the utility company or government to help fund it or finance it. The only water consumption change in my house since August is that we are drinking more water to make up for the higher than usual temparatures we've had. I agree with JS, the timing of the Governor's plea was spot-on for this area. It would be more interesting and convincing to see a comparison of consumption (believe me, the demand was there!) this past October to last year's numbers. Either way, something needs to be done at the local and regional levels, including restricting growth to responsible, sustainable growth, before we all find ourselves waiting for a daily water ration delivery.



My older brother got a tongue lashing for taking a fifteen minute shower at my parents house in Florida this weekend. The logic: That 20 minute shower costs like $15 in FL (well not really, but that's what he said), its not like back home where water is cheap. The average shower length decreased considerably for the rest of the weekend.

Oh, and the community in Florida uses reclaimed water to water the lawns. Seems to work well enough, but smells a little funny sometimes.


Very interesting, especially since I live in GA and as pointed out earlier our government's solution to drought is prayer. I live in one of the counties which has enacted some of the strictest outdoor watering bans in the state but it is hard to take it seriously when you see medians being watered or hear stories like the guy using nearly 1/2 a million gallons a month for his house. (I understand he has substantially lowered his usage to under a 1/4 million gallons)

Regardless I am interested in two things: 1) the lack of a real economic incentive to reduce water usage and 2) the social change/acceptance of the status for those that are considered water wasters.

At what point does the social pressure to conserve manifest itself and how is that apparent in such large social groups (whole cities, counties and metropolitan areas)? Or does the social pressure stem from small collectives (families, neighborhoods, social groups, churches, schools, work) which than encumbers the large social groups? How does this develop and expand?

Which incentive, economic or social, more powerful in reducing an individuals water usage? Which one is sustainable?



I live in NC, and the biggest difference I've seen resulted from the disincentives against higher water usage put into place by the local water authority. I am aware of the drought, but didn't have any idea Easley had spoken about it (though I could've guessed).

Even the restaurants have stopped serving water (unless you ask for it) b/c of fines / local action. Unfortunately, some people continue to water their lawns, and residential fines are largely dependent upon neighbors reporting such incidents.

The moral of the story from where I stand is, if it has a higher price (i.e., fines), people use less.


I'm living in Charlotte, where I haven't heard anyone really complain about anything except that they can't wash their cars. I have noticed that people make negative comments when they see a beautifully green lawn- "I guess they care more about a pretty lawn than having water to drink". And these are comments from people who would generally call concern for the environment a "liberal" thing.

Also, I don't have any numbers but I would guess that now is a great time to own an Auto Bell in North Carolina..


In the UK using grey water on gardens is perfectly acceptable - the UK 'Centre for Alternative Technology' even publish a tipsheet on it (charge to download it). Could somebody pass this on to NC administration ?

Ryan Teague Beckwith

As it turns out, the data are not completely reliable.

For more on the numbers, check The News & Observer's Under the Dome blog here:



The economics of water saving stratagies are pretty well understood here in australia.

Many incentives such as subsidies for rain water tanks as well as continual increases in the price of water to drive down consumption. I would think that there are very few people left in australia who leave the tap running when brushing their teeth. All new homes must have a dual flush toilet. We are really quite scared that we will run out of water.

For instance we are all glued to website such as this,
for info regarding how much water we have left.

Water restrictions are a continual way of life here and most Australians are quite resigned to the fact that water use outside of the home will always be restricted.



I love Mike Ealsey with alll my HEART!!!!!!! If you see him ask him if he will marry me!!!!!!!! Please it's for the sake of love!!!!!!!