The City Public Works and Utilities Department is proposing to decriminalize watering violations issued during periods when the City is under mandatory water restrictions. The Department also is proposing to establish water shortage rates to encourage conservation during drought conditions. The Lincoln City Council is scheduled to hold a pre-council meeting on the Department's recommendations at 4:30 p.m. today in Room 113 of the County-City Building, 555 S. 10th Street. The regular City Council meeting begins at 5:30 p.m.
"After our experience last summer, Mayor Beutler directed us to review all our water plans and procedures to see where we could make improvements," said Miki Esposito, Public Works and Utilities Director. "The changes we are announcing this spring are the result of months of work. The goal is to reduce public confusion and inconvenience while still encouraging conservation and maintaining our water supply during periods of drought. We look forward to hearing from the public on these proposed changes."
The proposal to decriminalize watering violations will be introduced at today's Council meeting. A public hearing will be held Monday, May 6, and the Council will vote on Monday May 13. The resolution on drought rates will be introduced at the Council meeting May 6, with a public hearing and vote on May 13.
Watering violations are currently a misdemeanor offense. The proposal decriminalizes violations by handling them administratively. Egregious or multiple violations may be filed criminally by the City Attorney's Office. If the changes are adopted, the penalty is $150 for the first offense, $250 for the second offense and $350 for third and subsequent offenses. The Police Department will continue to enforce watering restrictions, but officers would not be required to present the citation to the tenant or property owner in person and could leave it on the door of the property.
Water rates are already set to encourage conservation. City water is billed by the unit, equal to 100 cubic feet (748 gallons), and the residential structure has three price blocks. Under the proposal, the residential rates would change when the Mayor declares voluntary or mandatory water restrictions:
The rates increase again if the water shortage is deemed to be "critical" or "catastrophic." Customers' actual bills are determined by how much water they use in each block.
"The goal of the water shortage rates is to create a price signal to customers that encourages water conservation and efficient use, while keeping the system revenue neutral," Esposito said. "Customers who conserve should see little or no impact on their bills. But those who engage in wasteful or inefficient use during drought will pay more."
Under the new proposal, water rates for non-residential and industrial customers also would increase slightly under voluntary or mandatory watering restrictions. Esposito said the rate increase would be smaller because these customers provide jobs for the community, and the water use for large customers is more stable throughout the year.
Last week, the Department announced revisions to the Water Management Plan. These changes were approved by Mayor Beutler and do not require ordinance changes.
Under the revised plan, if mandatory restrictions are implemented, apartment complexes and commercial properties will be required to limit outdoor watering to Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays regardless of address.
If mandatory restrictions are implemented, the designated day watering schedule will remain the same for single-family and duplex properties:
The revised plan also includes changes for private well owners:
More information is available by visiting water.lincoln.ne.gov or calling the Water Management Hotline at 402-441-1212.