Local authorities urge Mebane residents to conserve water

Graham-Mebane Lake, pictured above, is currently more than six feet below what is considered a "normal pool" level. While the lake is currently undergoing routine maintenance, which required a dropping of three feet of lake water, the recent hot, dry conditions has reduced the pool level at Graham-Mebane Lake an additional three and a half feet. Mebane Public Works officials are closely watching the lake levels, and suggest that Mebanites consider their water usage. If the area doesn't receive significant rainfall in the next three weeks, voluntary water restrictions could be implemented citywide by late October. 

Mebane citizens are being asked by local officials, including members of the City Council and the town’s Public Works and Utilities administration, to consider their water usage during what has been an unseasonably dry period of time for the state of North Carolina. 

The town provided the following statement for residents and visitors to Mebane: 

The City of Mebane is asking that customers be mindful of their water use during this extended dry spell. 

The unseasonably warm temperatures and dry conditions have extended our summer season and therefore prolonged high water usage. This, along with the maintenance and improvements being performed at the Graham Mebane Water treatment plant, has caused lower than normal take levels for this time of year. Please avoid wasteful water use. 

Thank you in advance for your efforts to conserve the City of Mebane’s water supply.

At Monday night’s City Council meeting, Mebane Public Works Utilities Director Kyle Smith explained that at the Graham-Mebane Lake, which provides water to citizens within Mebane’s city limits, the pool elevation is currently six and a half feet below its normal elevation for this time of year. He added that the city is currently at approximately 975 million gallons of available water, which is well below the typical pool amount of 2.1 billion gallons of available water. 

Smith indicated that at current projections, if Mebane does not get any significant rainfall in the coming weeks, the city will be at the capacity threshold around October 27 to implement voluntary water restrictions around town. 

“I just want to remind people to conserve water in this time,” Smith said. “We’re not in the water shortage response plan activation as of yet. It was roughly October 27th when I did the calculations. But if things continue the way they are, without any rain, we’re looking at about three weeks before we have to start Stage 1, which is voluntary water restrictions. Once that Stage 1 is trigged, that’s a 150-day supply. Every 30 days of usage triggers the next stage in the conservation plan.”

“So we’ve got about a 150-day supply if it doesn’t rain?” Smith was asked by Mayor Glendel Stephenson. 

“In about three weeks, we’ll have a 150-day supply,” Smith said in response. 

“That’s with no rain. We could get some rain to slow it down,” added Assistant City Manager Chris Rollins. 

If Mebane goes a couple months without significant rainfall and heads into late November and early December with more dry, unseasonably warm weather, the city could be forced to implement mandatory water restrictions, although that has never known to have happened before. 

“It’s based on the number of days of storage,” Smith said of potential water restrictions. “Once we get down to 120 days, it triggers mandatory water restrictions at that point. It steadily increases as every 30 days goes by.”

Smith has been in almost daily communication with Public Works officials in Graham, getting updates on current water use. Graham and Mebane jointly own Graham-Mebane Lake for the water plant, which can safely provide and treat 12 million gallons of water a day. Mebane owns 6 million gallons of that daily water, of which Smith and Rollins indicated Mebane citywide currently uses about 2 million gallons per day. 

Smith informed us that the Graham-Mebane pool level started off three feet below normal pool elevations due to maintenance activities that have been taking place at the water plant. 

“So the lake has dropped about three and a half feet due to the drought,” said Mayor Stephenson. 

“They are working on the spillway. They had to lower the lake level in order to complete that maintenance,” Smith told the City Council. “It was a very wet spring. So they had to lower the lake level down in order to do the maintenance. Once the weather broke, they lowered the level and did the maintenance on the spillway.” 

Rollins explained that the concrete weir at Graham-Mebane Lake — a structure designed to change and measure water flow while holding all the water in the lake - is three feet tall.  

“If you have water on the back side of that (weir), while they’re trying to work, some of it comes up through the joints that they have to work on,” Rollins said. “We’ve done this four or five times. Before they start construction on the spillway, that water has to be taken three feet down, or it causes them all kinds of problems.” 

In 2007, North Carolina suffered a statewide drought that resulted in record low levels at Graham-Mebane Lake, but Mebane was never at the stage to implement voluntary restrictions at that time.

“We were probably closer to where we are now,” Rollins said. “The Governor issued a statement (back in 2007) that said statewide, I want everybody to go to voluntary restrictions. So Graham and Mebane both agreed to go ahead and implement voluntary restrictions, even though the chart didn’t say that’s where we needed to be.” 

“There’s not voluntary restrictions in place (now),” the Assistant City Manager continued. “But it has been a little dry. It’s been very obvious. It would make some sense for folks to start thinking about how they’re using water.” 

“I remember the last time we had a shortage,” said the Mayor, recalling the 2007 drought. “It was suggested when you brush your teeth, turn the water off, instead of just letting it run. It would probably be amazing how many gallons 15,000 people, brushing their teeth twice a day, would save.” 

The City of Mebane is being preemptive itself in conserving its own water usage during this period of time by cutting off water fountains around town, while also stopping all watering at city facilities. Public Works officials added that they will be cutting back on any unnecessary flushing they perform at their facilities in the coming weeks. 

Although the Mebane City Council took no formal action at Monday night’s meeting, most of them expressed personal interest in seeing Mebane residents take the drought seriously, and to conserve water until levels get back to normal. 

“Grass is going to die now. It’s going to get cold eventually,” Everette Greene said. “You can’t tell me when it’s going to rain. But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with going ahead and starting it (voluntary conservation of water).” 

“They are monitoring this every single day - how much water we use, and how much capacity we have left in the lake,” fellow City Council member Patty Philipps added. “That’s an important thing for the public to be aware of. I also would not be opposed to going to voluntary restrictions at this time.” 

“If you let people know it’s dry, hopefully they’ll exercise common sense,” added Tim Bradley. “We’ve got an ordinance. They’re keeping up with the numbers. It’s dry. Everybody has probably figured that out. We will follow our ordinance in three or four weeks if we haven’t gotten any rain.” 

“Let’s do all we can. Let’s all be aware of the situation. Not the problem. But the situation, before it becomes a problem,” Mayor Stephenson added.