DECATUR — Faced with a water shortage that will likely cause layoffs, Decatur City Council members generally agreed Monday that they would look for a solution to avert similar situations in the future.
City officials announced earlier in the day that tighter water restrictions will begin at 12:01 a.m. Thursday. Those restrictions prohibit commercial car washes and vehicle detailing operations from using water, news that brought a group of car wash owners and employees to the council meeting Monday evening.
“We have employees with families, children and we don’t have another way of supporting our families,” said Eula Allen, manager of Eldorado Express Wash at 1329 E. Eldorado St. “If you close us down, you’re going to have a lot more people on unemployment.”
Tom Belleville owns that establishment and Red Carpet Full Service Car Wash and has more than 30 employees between the two. He said he learned that his businesses would be shut down after hearing about the new restrictions from customers.
City Manager Ryan McCrady said the city needed to tighten restrictions to prepare for the worst.
“I know it affects jobs. I know it does,” he said. “But I had to make a decision to do what I thought was best for the long term. We have to plan for the worst possible situation and hope that things turn around. But we can’t hope and not plan.”
McCrady agreed with several council members who said the city needs to find a permanent solution to its water problems.
It is not a new proposition. The same subject sparked much discussion from city officials and council members in 2007 and 2008, when the city considered building a new reservoir.
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Mayor Mike McElroy spoke sternly about the lost potential for such a project.
“I think now that all of us need to understand how important that would be at this particular time. Any industry that we’re going to ever hope to get is not going to be looking very friendly upon the fact that the last three years with droughts, where we ended up going,” he said. “So we’re going to have to make our minds up as a community what we want to do. Do we want industry or do we want to fight this every year?”
Councilman Pat Laegeler wondered whether the council should consider increasing water rates on an emergency basis to dissuade people from using water. McCrady said other cities have seen a reduction in water use after taking similar steps.
Councilwoman Dana Ray asked what the next stage of water restrictions might entail. McCrady said industrial restrictions could be required at some point, which might have a greater economic effect on the community.
“We don’t know if … or how many jobs would be impacted. It’s going to depend on the rate of restrictions we have to do to achieve that,” McCrady said.
The council is scheduled to hear from the Black & Veatch Corp. soon about the potential for shallow groundwater resources near the South Water Treatment Plant, which could provide another supplemental water source for the city.