National developer DR Horton told Pender County Utilities that it would pump pond water to irrigate freshly laid sod at a new Hampstead development. It used county water instead.
HAMPSTEAD — On the 31st day of Stage 3 mandatory water restrictions imposed by Pender County Utilities (PCU), national developer DR Horton was discovered to be using county water to irrigate new lawns at a Hampstead development called The Sound at Washington Acres.
According to PCU Director Kenny Keel, the developer had previously promised the county’s water superintendent to pump water from adjacent ponds for irrigation purposes while the restrictions were in place — restrictions that banned any watering of grass lawns. A water shortage was announced after the county reached 97 percent capacity over Memorial Day weekend, affecting one-fifth of the county’s population.
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When reached Wednesday, Keel said he was confident the water was coming from the nearby ponds because the county had already locked out irrigation meters in the area. When he sent a PCU employee to check the situation that afternoon, it was discovered the sprinklers had instead been connected to the spigots of homes that were not yet inhabited.
Corporate citizen ‘blatantly abusing the restrictions’
Keel said his department has been lenient since the May 26 announcement, issuing warnings and locking out meters rather than imposing fines.
“But if we have a corporate citizen that’s blatantly abusing the restrictions and not abiding by them, then we’ll definitely go take further steps, such as [Stage 3] fines,” Keel said.
Those fines are outlined in the county’s Water Shortage Response Plan, which was updated and adopted into the county’s code of ordinances on June 17. Under Stage 3 restrictions, the first violation receives a warning followed by a $250 fine and then discontinuation of service after the third violation.
Keel said his office was currently locking the meters to those homes where the water spigots were used and he would soon discuss the issue with DR Horton representatives. He said fines will be imposed if the company continue to ignore water restrictions.
Keel also said that enforcement of the county’s water plan, particularly monitoring who is violating the restrictions, has been difficult due to short-handed staff. He said his office held interviews last week to fill in two needed spots.
“We’re struggling just to do our basic jobs,” Keel said. “And so being able to do a whole lot of enforcement is really difficult.”
The Sound will have 74 homes once built out, according to the development’s website; roughly a third have been completed. DR Horton’s media relations manager did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Residents trying to conserve
In May, Nate Colby and his wife moved into a recently completed home in The Sound. He said the developers have been running sprinklers at nearby lots, where new sod was laid, 24 hours a day since last Wednesday — or, at least, they’ve tried to.
“I just walk across the street every night and turn it off,” Colby said.
Colby believes the developer and its contractors are flushing tens of thousands of gallons down into the water table, and losing much of the water to evaporation when they irrigate during high day temperatures.
“Because it’s of no value to the actual grass — you’re just pumping county water into the water table because it’s all sand underneath the half-inch of sod,” Colby said. “So 98% of that water, after being treated, is being pumped into the ground for no reason.”
Although Keel said his office only reads meters once a month, he estimated such irrigation service uses between 5 and 10 gallons a minute.
Although Colby understands DR Horton’s predicament — freshly laid sod must be watered extensively — he said the developer is failing to act responsibly during a water shortage while his neighbors have acted to conserve their own water usage.
“I talked to my neighbors and they run it at about 10-minute intervals after the sun goes down at about 8 o’clock, so the grass actually gets it,” Colby said. “So everyone in the neighborhood is trying to do their part, then the developers put more water in the ground, meaninglessly, than all of us probably have in the last 30 days.”
He said he recently used 50-gallon totes of collected rainwater after a recent storm to water his new sod the last two days.
Ultimately, Colby says the responsibility to conserve is more important than the lushness of his lawn.
“And with development it’s going to be an every-year thing, and people need to adapt and figure it out,” Colby said. “Our grass isn’t doing great and I don’t expect to have a lush lawn this year. I’m assuming that next year, after it goes to seed and goes dormant, it will come back strong.”
Mark Darrough can be reached at Mark@Localvoicemedia.com