DECATUR — City officials announced a second stage of water restrictions Monday that would close commercial car washes and prohibit the watering of all lawns.
The restrictions are scheduled to go into effect at 12:01 a.m. Thursday, officials said during a news conference at the Decatur Civic Center. Keith Alexander, director of water management, said they are the tightest restrictions that officials could find in city records.
Alexander said the situation is no longer drawing comparisons to the 1988 drought. Instead, he said it is being compared to the crippling dry spells of the 1950s and 1930s.
“We fully realize that these restrictions will negatively impact many homeowners and businesses. We hope that all of our citizens and water customers realize the seriousness of this drought and that we need to take aggressive steps and sacrifices now, not later,” Alexander said.
The restrictions prohibit residents from washing vehicles, except in cases where public health and safety might be threatened. Commercial car washes, detailing facilities and motor vehicle sales facilities are not exempt, as they had been during the first stage of restrictions that began July 25.
The use of water to maintain lawns, landscape grass, golf course grass, athletic field grass, trees and shrubs also is prohibited. This does not apply to water used to maintain vegetation inventories at commercial gardening, landscaping and plant nursery facilities.
Officials also made an exception for vegetable gardens, recognizing that some citizens depend on those gardens for food. Those gardens may be watered if the water is poured from a bucket that is 5 gallons in volume or less, and the watering may only take place on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
A full list of restrictions is available at decaturil.gov. Alexander said residents who require clarifications can call the city’s Water Services Division at 875-5705.
City Manager Ryan McCrady reminded residents that some people have access to private wells and may be using them for water. However, residents are still encouraged to report potential violations to Decatur police at 424-2711.
Alexander said the lake was at its full capacity of 8 billion gallons June 6, just two months ago. Scorching temperatures and high customer demand has brought it down 6/10 of an inch per day since then.
It was recorded at 611.52 feet above sea level Monday morning, about 3 feet below its normal summer level.
Residential use accounts for only 22 percent of water use from the South Water Treatment Plant. Industrial, commercial and government customers account for the other 78 percent. Tate & Lyle is the largest customer, using 31 percent, followed by Archer Daniels-Midland Co., with 28 percent.
If large industrial customers are forced to cut back their usage dramatically, Alexander said it could “absolutely” lead to layoffs, a situation the city wants to avoid at all costs.
McCrady said the city has been meeting with industrial customers since last fall, when they initially made changes to conserve their water use.
“At this level, we’re not asking for a mandatory percentage of reduction, but we’re asking them to report back to us what kind of reductions they’re making,” McCrady said of industrial customers. “We continue to meet with them on a very regular basis to see what other ideas they might have.”