But even if the sizzle continues to bake the surrounding landscape and to brown all things green, Cleveland Utilities sees no pending threat to its available water supply. That’s because of a decision made years ago to beef up its capacity from 15.3 million to 21.1 million gallons per day.
“We feel our redundancy with both our plants (Cleveland Utilities Filter Plant and the Hiwassee Utilities Commission facility) and with our interconnections with East Side and Waterville Springs (additional water sources) ... will give us an adequate capacity,” according to Craig T. Mullinax, vice president of the CU Water Division..
This wasn’t always the case prior to the HUC plant expansion. At the time, Cleveland Utilities’ water capacity was 15.3 million gallons daily. In midsummer droughts, it was not uncommon for CU to pump as many as 14.8 to 14.9 million gallons.
“We were getting really close [to capacity] on some days,” Mullinax said. “Just from my own recollection, I would say 14.8 to 14.9 million gallons are the most we ever needed for one day.”
Getting that close to daily capacity was an ongoing concern for utility leaders who at times were forced to seek the public’s cooperation in water conservation measures that included how water was used and when. It even included established days of the week when residents could water gardens and lawns. The rationing system kept CU within capacity, but officials realized facility expansion was inevitable.
“If you start exceeding 80 percent of your capacity ... at the time, that would have been 12.2 million gallons ... then you need to start thinking about additional capacity which we ended up doing,” Mullinax recalled. The initiative led to an expansion of the HUC plant which in turn meant more available water for Cleveland Utilities.
Volume of the public’s water use is often impacted by dry conditions, but other dynamics come into play as well, Mullinax said.
“Some of the dynamics are customer base (number of residential, commercial and irrigation customers), what’s going on with larger customers and industrial customers, and whether they’re up or down economically,” the 29-year Cleveland Utilities veteran explained.
It also has to do with seasonal cycles of large businesses and industrial facilities.
“Right now, we have one large company not using as much water,” Mullinax said. “It’s just a cyclical thing with them. All of these dynamics play into total capacity.”
Prior to last week’s start to the ongoing heat wave, Cleveland Utilities pumped its largest amount of the summer season by providing customers with 14.153 million gallons of water on Tuesday, June 26. This was about 67.1 percent of CU’s current capacity. The ratio might sound high to some, but Mullinax stressed, “We’re in good shape capacity wise.”
He doesn’t see this changing unless the local utility suffers a major line break which could cripple the water system temporarily until repairs could be made to the damaged water main. Such repairs normally can be made within a few hours, but it could lead to a voluntary call for water rationing by customers until the reconnections are made.
Because of the extreme heat and lack of rainfall, more and more customers are reverting to watering their lawns, flower beds or gardens, either through established irrigation systems or using store-bought sprinklers, Mullinax said. Even with this increased usage, CU’s current capacity should easily accommodate the demand, he added.
“I don’t see water supply as an issue,” Mullinax said. Even with less rainfall, CU draws its water supply from the Hiwassee River which originates from the mountains. This water is treated by the utility which then distributes it to paying customers.
The Hiwassee River’s levels could go down depending on the time of season and severity of drought, but Mullinax doesn’t see this as having a significant impact on water available.
Rainfall does determine the Hiwassee’s levels and the amount falling on the Cleveland area in 2012 is far below the average, and certainly under last year’s totals.
Currently, the Cleveland area has received about 19.61 inches of rain in 2012, which is about 8.49 inches below normal. The annual average for this time of year is about 27 to 28 inches. The past few months have been unkind to the area’s water needs. In April, only 1.16 inches of rainfall were recorded at the CU Filter Plant. In May, the amount was 2.11 inches and June (through the 24th) recorded only 2.62 inches.
Since last week’s start of the heat wave, no rainfalls have been recorded at the local filter facility.
So far, the 2012 rainfall total represents the second lowest amount in the Cleveland area since 2007 when only 13.03 inches fell during the same time period. This dates back 16 years to 1996.
“Rainfall amount is not really tied to the amount of water available for Cleveland Utilities treatment,” Mullinax explained. “It would be if [a drought] extended over a long period of time. We have a good source of water with the Hiwassee River.”
Although Cleveland Utilities’ water capacity isn’t being threatened by increased amounts of irrigation, this is not a license to waste water, he cited. As in all CU practices — whether with water use or electricity — the utility recommends responsible residential and commercial habits.
Although the downside to the current heat wave is the discomfort it brings to Cleveland and Bradley County residents, the uptick is it often leads to increased water use by CU customers, and that translates into higher sales which helps the public utility to pay its bills.
This week’s forecast calls for an increase in the likelihood for late-afternoon showers as soon as today based on the return of higher humidity rates in the Southeast Tennessee region.