Growers Rally Against Watering Ban

Despite the protests of more than 200 people representing growers and landscapers in Raleigh, N.C., city council voted unanimously to move to strict watering restrictions last night.

In addition to attending the meeting, growers, garden center retailers and landscapers were all urged to write letters to the mayor and city council members to make a case for fair treatment during water restrictions. An outdoor watering ban will likely remain in place throughout 2008, to ensure drinking water isn’t used for irrigation.

Stage 2 water restrictions would have automatically come into effect if Raleigh’s water supply dips to 90 days, but the mayor and several council members moved to enact them Feb.15. The current supply from Falls Lake is estimated to last until mid May. Surrounding suburbs also depend on Raleigh’s water system, which serves 140,000 customers.

Growers Susan Brown and Denise Etheridge of Homewood Nursery, a leading grower-retailer in Raleigh, told us about the city council meeting. Anticipating a lot less demand, Brown says Homewood is only growing a fraction of what it normally produces. Etheridge adds, “Our customers are afraid to buy plants.”

To help the green industry respond to this looming threat, the North Carolina Green Industry Council created three sample letters industry members could send with email links to the city officials. Key points in the letters were:

  • The green industry creates and maintains our outdoor living spaces. If consumers are not allowed to water, they do not purchase or install plants, flowers, trees or turf. The industry grinds to a halt.
  • Due to the drought, green industry revenue is down 40 percent from a year ago.
  • Green industry layoffs are at 30 percent of the workforce as of Oct. 31, 2007.
  • These numbers are going to increase as the drought and effects continue.
  • While other industries are being requested to cut back water consuption, the green industry is facing insurmountable losses in revenue, increasing layoffs and potential closing of businesses completely.
  • The green industry generates $8.6 billion in economic benefit for North Carolina each year and employes more than 151,000 people.
  • Maintaining and improving our environment is NOT wasteful, as plant material offers tremendous benefits, such as minimizing erosion and runoff that clogs our natural waterways and reservoirs. Plants also filter pollution, provide oxygen, cool the environment and provide ecological habitats for wildlife. Sacrificing the environment is not a solution!
  • If we don’t take care of our existing landscapes, we can forget ever complying with federal EPA air quality regulations as plants are our greatest asset in pollution control.
  • The green industry has earned and deserves the support of decision makers by contributing substantially to the economy whil protecting and improving our environment.
  • We do not ask for immunity from restrictions but ask for fairness. We ask for your help so that we no longer bear the burden of water restrictions alone. 

Proposed alternatives to the ban as reasonable changes and suggestions include:

  • Allow homeowners a 30-day variance on new installations performed by green industry professionals. This includes plants, flowers, sod, seed and trees.
  • After the 30-day period, we request twice a week use of water for irrigation.
  • Open full access to hand watering and drip irrigation.
  • Fix the infrastructure that wastes millions of gallons.
  • Demand that all industry do their part and cut water consumption by 15 percent. 

Unfortunately, our industry is going to bear the brunt of these restrictions alone again. This is a common story whenever drought strikes.

If you know of any positive stories, related to water districts and municipalities applying water restrictions more equitably across industries and water customers, we’d like to hear them—Or examples of municipalities cooperating with the green industry and working toward more equitable solutions. We need to know what has worked elsewhere, especially when writing letters and showing up at meetings doesn’t work.

Please send any insight you have to Greenhouse Grower’s Editor Delilah Onofrey, [email protected]

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