Mayor Chris Beutler lifted mandatory water restrictions Thursday, but urged residents to continue to conserve water by voluntarily following the designated day schedule for outdoor watering. Mandatory restrictions went into effect August 9 due to historically low Platte River flows below 300 cubic feet per second (cfs). The river flow this week exceeded 1,000 cfs for the first time in nearly two months. The Mayor also thanked residents for reducing their water use. The City's goal for water use remains at 55 million gallons a day (mgd) or less, and the average water use so far in September is 51 mgd.
"I do not want the end of mandatory restrictions to make us complacent," Beutler said. "Despite the river's recovery, we still have to be conscious of the water table and what will be available to us next spring. I strongly urge every Lincoln resident to continue their conservation efforts. If your lawn is dormant, it is best to leave it in that state and save the water. Common sense conservation now may help us avoid harsh measures next spring if the drought continues. We have pulled together and made this work. There is no reason we can't continue our success."
All water customers are asked to follow the designated day schedule for all outdoor watering, including the washing of vehicles:
•Properties with street addresses ending in even numbers (0, 2, 4, 6 and 8) should limit outdoor water use to Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays.
•Properties with street addresses ending in odd numbers (1, 3, 5, 7 and 9) should limit outdoor water use to Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
The Mayor said City staff will continue to meet on a regular basis to evaluate the City's short-term and long-term water supply and to work on improvements to the City's water management policy. The City last implemented mandatory watering restrictions in 2002.
"It has become clear to us that changing times require changing policies," Beutler said. "Many residents developed innovative water saving ideas that do not fit the current water restriction policies. We need to figure out a strategy to encourage, rather than discourage those types of sustainable practices and good citizenship. Unfortunately, there is not an easy and quick fix. We do not want to move in haste and create a series of unintended consequences."
Beutler said he is directing staff to develop a new plan in the next two months to allow for public debate, City Council action and public education before next spring. He said one of the issues to be resolved is the classification of watering violations as misdemeanors, which could impact an individual's ability to obtain a job or maintain a professional license.
The Lincoln Police Department has issued 400 tickets for watering violations. The Lancaster County Court is allowing people who have received tickets to waive court appearances and pay $100 fines plus court costs.
"I don't believe the watering violations should be a misdemeanor crime," Beutler said. "But that was the only legal tool available to us in a crisis that needed immediate action. And even with its flaws, the watering restriction policy was a much better choice than allowing our water supply to be threatened. I believe a just solution continues to include a financial penalty. The water situation was serious and we all had a legal obligation to be fair to one another and comply. But I also believe a just solution does not jeopardize someone's job opportunity. The best solution is to use the Mayoral pardon option."
Those who have been cited may apply for a Mayoral pardon after they have resolved their ticket and paid the fine. Pardons that are granted will appear on a person's record, allowing potential employers and licensing organizations to see that the person was exonerated.
Beutler stressed that violators must either appear in court on the date listed on the citation or waive the right to trial, plead guilty and pay the fine prior to the court date, following the instructions printed on the back of the citation. Failure to follow this step could result in the issuance of an arrest warrant by the court following its usual procedures for misdemeanors.
Those who have completed the court process can request a pardon by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or sending a letter to the Mayor's Office at 555 S. 10th Street, Lincoln, NE 68508. All requests must include the full name, address, and contact information.
"Water is a vital and precious resource, and protecting our families, homes and businesses depends on conservation," Beutler said. "Protecting our water supply becomes a fundamental imperative of City government. As the events of the past two months have demonstrated, I take that responsibility very seriously, as do our citizens. We must continue our diligence while recognizing that we can and should improve the system so we can balance water conservation with the need to treat our residents fairly and respectfully."
Those with questions on the water restrictions can contact LWS at 402-441-5918.