Augusta's outdoor watering rules have changed -- again.
Effective today, residents in nine west Augusta subdivisions will remain on an odd-even rotation but may water outdoors -- "conservatively," officials say -- at any time of day. The neighborhoods with the new rules are National Hills, Bedford Heights, Windsor Forest, Lakemont, Brookfield West, Vineland, Forest Park, Country Club Hills and Brookfield II.
City officials decided Wednesday to implement the new plan after people in those areas continued to experience a loss of water pressure -- and in some cases a total loss of water -- during the hours when outdoor watering was allowed.
They hope that allowing those neighborhoods 24-hour access to their sprinklers and hoses will reduce the demand placed on the water tank when everyone waters at the same time, officials said.
"There was plenty of water in the pipes, but they couldn't get the pressure in their homes. So we feel like if we go to this particular system, this will alleviate the problem because ... when everybody turns their water on at 9 o'clock, there is a tremendous drawdown at one time," said Mayor Larry Sconyers.
There is water in the tanks, but the lines are inadequate when everybody turns their water on at one time, Mr. Sconyers said.
"This I hope will eliminate the drawdown. We've worked and tried a lot of different things, but hopefully, this will be the one that will solve the problem," he said.
If it works in these subdivisions, the new regulations will be expanded to others gradually until the entire county is included, Mr. Sconyers said.
Water levels at Augusta's two reservoirs, normally at 29 feet, were measured at 17.8 feet and 14.4 feet at 6 p.m. Wednesday, city utilities officials said.
Residents hope the revised watering restrictions will work but remain skeptical after so many previous attempts to lift them have failed. Augusta has been under outdoor watering restrictions or bans since May 22 when a turbine at the city's pumping station on the Augusta Canal was removed for repairs and an emergency backup system malfunctioned.
The constant changes in watering times have been difficult to keep up with, residents said Wednesday. They want to abide by the rules but sometimes aren't aware of the latest restrictions.
"It's very confusing. If you miss the news, you don't know if anything's changed during the day, whether you're allowed to water or not. Or maybe you could have watered and didn't," said Janie Crowder of Springwood Drive in National Hills.
The two hours every other day that she has been allowed to water have not been sufficient to repair the damage the two-week total ban on outdoor watering did to her grass and flower beds.
Noticing that the sprinkler she placed in her front yard was wetting the edge of her driveway, she paused to move it over a couple of inches.
"I need that water," she said. "Two hours just isn't enough time. It barely gets wet."
The problems with the city's water system indicate poor management, residents believe. They want someone to be held accountable.
"They (city officials) desperately need to get something done about this problem," Ms. Crowder said. "We pay our taxes. Where's the money gone?"
"They've known about this problem for years," said Eisenhower Road resident Charles Dinkins. "Why haven't they made a move to fix it before now? Why didn't they fix that water main when it broke two years ago? Where is my tax money going?"
The city hopes to have a 42-inch water line that has been out of service for two years back on line by Friday, said City Administrator Randy Oliver. The line that runs from the Augusta Canal to the filter plant on Highland Avenue was closed for safety reasons after it ruptured for the fourth time in 1996, flooding streets and houses.
The line has been inspected and is being shored up. It will give the city the ability to pump 10 million gallons a day more from the canal to help refill reservoirs, Mr. Sconyers said.
Staff Writer Sylvia Cooper contributed to this article.