Despite excellent results from a voluntary water conservation program already in place, harsher measures and stiffer fines could be on the way for water users in Lindsay.
At a meeting of the City Council on August 11, the foundation was laid for adding two sections to the city’s plan to conserve water. The effort is part of measures the city has taken to meet a state-mandated 25 percent reduction in water use.
“The citizens here have been doing a great job of conservation at 35 percent,” said Interim City Manager Bill Zigler.
However, the city has only reduced water usage by 19 percent on the year compared to the baseline usage in 2013, meaning additional measures are required if Lindsay is to meet the state’s goal and avoid sanctions.
Amending the Current Plan
Up for consideration were adding two phases to the city’s three-phase conservation plan. The city is currently in Phase III, which includes educational programs and outreach, restrictions on municipal watering, changes to building codes related to landscape irrigation, restricted watering days and times, prohibition of washing down sidewalks and driveways, and fines for violations. A 15-percent rate increase if conservation goals are not met is also possible under the current restrictions.
Proposed changes would add two intensified levels to the plan in place. In Phase IV restrictions, watering would be limited to just two days a week between 9 pm and 9 am, as would the washing of vehicles and the refilling of spas and pools. Car washing, allowed only with hoses with shut-off nozzles, will be limited to 30 minutes. No watering would be allowed at all for 48 hours after any measurable rainfall. Under Phase V, the most intense level, no watering or car washing will be allowed at all. Parks, schools and similar facilities would be allowed one watering day per week.
Under both new phases, violators would receive only one written warning before facing fines. First offenses carry a $50 fine. Second violations would cost $150, and any further violations carry a $250 fine. Fines will be included in violators’ water bills.
Already Fighting the Dryness
“We’re currently in Phase III. To meet the state requirement of 25 percent or two days a week, we automatically have council approval to go to stage four, but I think we can afford that,” City Services Director Mike Camarena told the Council. “July figures for water conservation … were tabulated, and we saved just over 35 percent in July. And, so our annual is just under 19. So, we’re on the way to hitting the 25 percent, but there’s still not a guarantee. July was, in a comparative sense, it was a relatively mild month. And, August so far has been a hot month. So, the recommendation would be go to Phase IV. We can watch numbers and always go backwards, or if necessary forward.”
The changes, introduced for a first reading at the August 11 meeting, could receive final approval at the next meeting of the Council on August 25. Its provisions would go into effect 30 days after passage.
City Revenue Could Suffer
Concerns were raised about the new restrictions effect on the city’s revenue as users consume less water. Camarena, however, said the city has already taken that into consideration and its budget reflects and expected decrease over the next two years.
“We projected … out from 2012 to 2017, the projections of what revenue were, and we’ve accommodated for that,” he said. “So far, it hasn’t been a problem. We should be OK for this fiscal year.”
Conservation Here to Stay
Camarena also warned that these restrictions will likely continue even if the drought lessens in the near future, as arid conditions will almost certainly return at some point.
“It’s a change in mentality in the way we use water,” he said. “People have to just see this is going to come back, whether it comes back in a year or the year after. We’re still going to be charged with managing ground water in a much different way.”
If the proposed changes are approved a second time by the council, Lindsay water users will be mailed a pamphlet explaining the range of restrictions to water use. While the changes could cause consternation among customers, they are needed to keep Lindsay in the state’s good graces, Zigler told the Council.
“The ordinance you just approved is going to give us a little bit of insurance should something get a little sideways with the state,” he said. “We’re just showing we took every foreseeable fair measure to ensure we were in conformance with their 25-percent mandate.”