The City Council likes the idea of putting teeth into its summer watering restrictions and is poised to consider fining people this summer if they are caught watering when they aren’t supposed to.
And the fines won’t be cheap: If you’re caught, you’ll pay $100 under the proposed ordinance, and an extra $50 on each subsequent violation until it hits $250. People will be given two warnings before fines would occur.
Property owners would be fined if they’re caught watering on a Monday or during the day from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. from June 1 to Oct. 1.
The City Council will consider the proposal on first reading Feb. 19 in an effort to reduce water use by 10 million gallons a day, sustainability coordinator Michael Foote said at a city workshop Monday.
That equates to 150 gallons per person per day.
The proposal must pass three readings to become law.
But as the City Council looked at the proposed ordinance, they did reduce the amount of the fines from what had been suggested. The initial fine was suggested to be $100, but the second offense would have been $250, a third offense $500 and each subsequent offense $750.
It’s part of a citywide effort to cut down on water waste, and could include watering with leaking or damaged irrigation parts, or watering in a way that causes water to run down the gutters or onto adjacent property.
If the city gets total compliance on the Monday watering ban for 20 straight Mondays, it would save 74 million gallons of water —about the same amount used from April to September 2012 by the city and county to water all their parks.
The city barely watered at all during that time, Councilman Forrest Rothleutner pointed out.
Councilman Ted Jerred said he hears from a lot of people who have gone out of town on the weekend and realized the grass needed watering on Monday when they return.
“Is there any other day besides Monday that we could come up with?” Jerred asked.
Mondays were selected to allow the water division to recharge the water tanks, Foote said.
Utilities Director Kendall Glover said water use was heaviest during the weekends.
Automated watering systems set to run while homeowners are asleep at night also pose another challenge.
“You’re not going to see if they are running properly,” Foote said. “Really it’s just a matter of setting your clocks.”
The reason for the ban during daytime hours is that when people water then, they lose 20 percent of it to evaporation.
How will it be enforced?
Details about how the proposal, if adopted, will be enforced are still somewhat sketchy.
“How are you going to track this?” Councilman Kevin McGrath asked. “Somehow, you’re going to have to track this to be able to prove it. The police aren’t going to want to do it.”
“We have a number of ideas that we think we could use to implement this program,” Foote said. “We’re working with a consulting group.”
He also told the council that his department plans on using compliance software, but didn’t elaborate on details.
“Once we have direction from council on what you would like us to do, then we’ll continue developing how,” Foote said.
Councilman John Opseth also wondered about enforcement.
“Someone watering at 1 o’clock on Monday morning, who is going to come out and take a look at that and enforce that?” he said.
City Administrator Carter Napier said his staff is figuring out what is actually prosecutable and what is provable.
But the council members agreed that however the details are worked out, the rules about watering must be enforced.
“We need to send a message loud and clear that this is serious business,” said Mayor Tom Murphy. “None of us want to have our tanks to a level where when we have a wild grass fire that comes in and burns two or three buildings and we can’t fight it. That pays for a lot of $100 fines.”
Making a statement
The city has used the voluntary watering restrictions for several years. It has asked people to refrain from any irrigating on Mondays and any watering from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. It also asks that people water only every other day based on their odd- or even-numbered addresses. All of those rules has been targeted in its proposed fines.
While there has been compliance, it hasn’t been enough in the eyes of city officials. The problem has been compounded by population growth and the fact that the duplicate Madison water pipeline won’t be done for three years.
If the city’s system were to be fully operational, without any glitches and it were pulling water from its 16 in-town wells and from the Madison aquifer, it would have a maximum production capability of 14.4 million gallons. That rarely happens. That’s why the city conservatively estimates its water production capability at 10 million gallons as what we can realistically and safely produce.
Last summer, there were 29 days when usage topped 10 million gallons, 20 of which came after the city and other large water users had cut back their irrigation in late June.
The average winter water use is 4 million gallons daily.
But don’t expect things to change much even then, some city officials said Monday.
“With the Madison, we are mining water,” Murphy said. “After this Madison project is complete, we still need to have the attitude of how precious this water is.”
“We’ve got to be aware that we’ve got to have sufficient water for our plants and our trees,” Foote said.
Does it have the backbone?
At its retreat in Ucross last month, the council directed Napier to come up with a proposed law to put teeth in the up-to-now voluntary program.
Napier has been developing a three-tiered plan for addressing water restraints, but he told the council last month that before presented a plan, he needs — as Councilwoman Louise Carter-King put it — to make sure the council has the backbone to actually implement it.
“If you tell me — from a strategic position — that we need to do anything we can to deal with our diminishing resource, then that tells me that I’ve got the green light to bring you a plan that could be considered aggressive,” Napier said. “But I don’t want to be Don Quixote trying to run against a mill. I don’t want to get set backwards.
“If I understand your strategic direction, I can prepare a plan that’s most consistent with that,” he told the council.
Compounding the problem is that 2012 was the driest year on record, and some drought experts think we’re headed for another hot, dry year.
“We’re two or three years out from the Madison, and I don’t see this going away,” Jerred said. “So we’re going to have to deal with it fairly aggressively, I would think, and then relax if we get moisture.”
“We were up against the wall with our consumption last year and we grew by 1,500 people. We’ve got issues that are real,” Jerred said.
More on what technologies might be used to ensure you’re following the water rules.