Birmingham Water Works declares ‘extreme drought emergency,’ surcharges go up to 400 percent

Image: MGN Online

Image: MGN Online

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – The Birmingham Water Works initiated stage four of its drought management plan Friday, indicating an “extreme drought emergency,” and paving the way for 400 percent surcharges for excess water use and encouraging municipalities within their service area to implement drought ordinances, according to our news partners at AL.com.

Stage four of the plan also includes a 400 percent surcharge for residential customers who use more than 9,000 gallons in a given month (the average household use is 7,500 gallons), and for non-residential customers who exceed 110 percent of their average water use.

The surcharges will be added to the regular water use fees, meaning water used in excess of those limits will cost customers five times as much.

These surcharges will not go into effect until Dec. 4, 30 days after the elevation to stage four was announced. The Birmingham Water Works implemented stage 3 of its drought plan on Oct. 19, triggering 200 percent surcharges for excess water use that begin on Nov. 19.

Though the surcharges have not yet taken effect, they have had an impact, according to Darryl R. Jones, assistant general manager of operations and technical services for the Water Works. Customers’ average daily water use declined from 115 million gallons per day to 105 million gallons per day.

“This was a very significant reduction and shows that the customers of the Birmingham Water Works are supportive of the message to reduce their water usage,” Jones said in a news release. “We also believe that we should continue to emphasize to our customers the severity of this weather crisis and engage them to help manage the demands for water until adequate rain returns to this area.”

The stage four measures are designed to decrease water use five percent beyond stage three measures.

According to a summary of the drought management plan, the Water Works is asking municipalities to enforce drought ordinances that include the following measures:

  • Customers will be allowed to hand water using a hose with a nozzle one day per week.
  • No watering between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. on each allowable watering day, and no watering on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays.
  • New lawns and landscaping exempt from day of the week watering restrictions for the first 20 days after installation.
  • Athletic fields may be watered Wednesdays and Saturdays between 4 a.m. and 9 a.m. when determined that said fields are hazardous to the health and safety of children and athletes, by being too hard by virtue of a lack of water.
  • Golf courses to restrict watering to tees and greens only on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays between the hours of 1 a.m. and 5 a.m.
  • Exemptions made for select commercial outdoor water users.

Stage four is the second highest stage of alert under the BWW plan. Stage five, called an “exceptional drought emergency,” would ask municipalities to ban all non-essential outdoor watering.

The measure comes as much of the BWW’s service area is classified as being in “exceptional drought” by the U.S. Drought Monitor, and with no significant rainfall expected in the upcoming 10-day forecast.