City Council will get down to meat-and-potatoes issues today -- or make that, rather, water and solid waste, two of the most tangible "hard services" the municipality delivers.
On the solid waste side, department director Donald Long will today be
proposing a fairly radical change to trash collection: the elimination
of "stationary container collection services," or the dumpsters so
commonly found at city businesses, and using the freed-up funds for an improved recycling program.
Durham took steps in the 1990s to begin charging businesses for trash pickup in dumpsters, and added recycling pick-up for businesses instead. (Recycling costs municipalities less than regular solid waste, since the cost of collection is partially off-set by the value of the resold cans, plastics and so forth.)
Even though the program has looked to recover its costs, last year's revenues came to $1.15m, against $1.8m in expenses. Since FY06, the program has run deficits of $560k-825k.
At the same time, Long's presentation claims customers are demanding improved recycling services, with the small-size of today's recycling bins listed as one issue; a pilot program with roll-to-the-curb larger recycling containers has been underway recently.
Long's proposal: to eliminate both the dumpster pickup program and the City's $2.1m annual contract with Tidewater Fibre for recycling pickup, and to transfer today's dumpster collection staff to recycling, using existing staff and previously-purchased trucks to provide every-other-week curbside recycling pick-up using 65-to-95 gallon containers.
Long projects a net half-million dollar savings from the program, along with a $1.7m reduction in Solid Waste's draw on the general fund.
Don't look for this to go without some questions possible from the business community, though, which would need to turn to outside contractors for dumpster collection services. Still, it has the possibility to be a "green" policy (estimated increase in recycling volume of 25%) while saving some "green" for the city to boot.
On the water side: Although our much-dreaded drought is over -- indeed, we noted here yesterday that the last week's rains moved us out of the "abnormally dry" category altogether -- the regional effort to increase water conservation across the various systems that make up the Triangle's drinking water continues.
While some press articles in the fall mentioned here-and-there restrictions on the way for various cities in the Triangle, I can't recall seeing much that emphasized the regional nature of these changes. In the wake of the drought, water managers from the various systems in the Triangle (including Durham's, Raleigh's, Cary's, and OWASA's) met to come up with a streamlined, unified set of water use restriction levels that would form year-round conservation methods, along with a new set of drought stages that could be unified across the region.
The theory? Different cities' individual water restrictions competed for airtime and mind-share last time around, confusing citizens on when outdoor water (or wasn't) allowed and on what schedule one could use water.
Most of the other municipalities participating in the Regional Conservation Work Group from March-October 2008 considered the adoption of these unified measures in fall '08. Durham's City Council adopted a resolution backing the measures in December, but are just now getting around to the actual new ordinances.
If adopted, the following new year-round water conservation measures will apply in Durham, mirroring other cities:
- New outdoor watering schedule: Spray irrigation (like sprinklers) allowed three days a week -- odd-numbered addresses Tue/Thu/Sat, even-numbered on Wed/Fri/Sun -- and only from 6pm to 10am. (We're not sure how the overnight hours work with the approved days, either.)
- Hand watering or drip/bubbler systems allowed any day; so is outdoor water use for establishing new landscaping, controlling dust/soil compacting, construction/maintenance activities, etc.
- All new irrigation systems will be required to have moisture sensors so they cease automatically if the ground is wet enough, as in rainfall situations
- "Wasteful water use" would be prohibited according to local ordinance. In Durham, that includes use of water for landscaping or the washing of vehicles or surfaces like parking lots in any way that causes water to flow onto neighboring properties or the public right of way; it also includes failure to correct a leak, break or malfunction within 5 days of identification.
Should we find our way back into a drought, cities will also find themselves using a more constrained list of water restriction levels (Stages 1-3 plus Emergency.)
Though little hailed, the move of municipalities, including Durham, to mandatory year-round conservation is a win. After the early 2000s drought, only Cary in our region retained its year-round schedule, and found itself in better straits when the 2007-08 drought arrived as a result.
The outdoor watering restrictions proposed here actually provide a wider range of times during the week for spray irrigation, which is currently limited in Durham to Wednesdays and Saturdays. City staff postulate in their memo to Council that spreading the demand through the week should "also help to control peak demands and lessen the stress on the drinking water plants, especially during the hotter months of the year."