Friday, August 17, 2012

Week of water

It has been a slightly frustrating week of chasing watering complaints for Lincoln police officers.  Since Lincoln's watering restrictions became effective on August 9th, LPD has responded to 417 water violation complaints. That's as of midnight, but they are pouring in again this morning.  The officers are doing there best to contact people, and if they are unaware of the restrictions, give them one warning to comply.  There have only been a couple of tickets issued, as most everyone has taken the warning seriously, once it has been delivered.

The addresses with repeat complaints number 17.  Some of these have been determined to be locations on private well water (apparently it's asking too much for some private well owners to just voluntarily adopt the City watering schedule). Some of the repeats have been businesses, churches or apartment buildings, where we had a difficult time locating the person responsible for the premise in the wee hours of the morning when the automatic sprinkler system kicked on.  A third shift officer gets dispatched at something like 4:30 AM, and no one is there until hours after he or she has gone off duty at 7:00 AM.  Some of the repeats have been residences where we simply couldn't find anyone at home--probably people who are out of town or on vacation.

The vast majority of the violators have simply been people who are oblivious to the restrictions.  As a news junkie myself, it's hard to fathom, but apparently there are tens of thousands of people in Lincoln who never pick up a newspaper, never check the local news on the Internet, and never listen to a news broadcast on the radio or TV.  A few have been people who cannot figure out how to reprogram their sprinkler system, and apparently don't understand that they can just turn the dial to OFF, or unplug the control from the wall.

I am a little surprised that the restriction to three days of outdoor watering hasn't had a bigger impact on decreasing water use.  While the total ban on Mondays has had the desired effect, the reduction on the other days of the week is smaller than I would have expected.  My suspicion is that some people, limited to a three day watering schedule, are watering like crazy on their designated day.  It is unbelievable to me to see some of the lawns gracing certain homes and businesses around town.   Personally, I consider a brown and dormant lawn to be an indication of good citizenship, and a lush green one to be a sign of clueless self-indulgence.

Here's a news flash: it hasn't rained significantly in Lincoln since early June, we're in an extreme drought, and the water flow in the Platte River where Lincoln's well fields are located is at an historic low--too low to recharge the aquifer.  Hope you enjoy that lush green bluegrass when sand is coming out of your faucet, or your house is burning down while a trickle drips from the fire hose.


45 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Hope you enjoy that lush green bluegrass when sand is coming out of your faucet, or your house is burning down while a trickle drips from the fire hose."

How can sand come our of a faucet, realistically?

Anonymous said...

Director,
Severe water rationing may be in our future. The "greenies" ridiculed owners of Hummers for their poor choice of wheels. A green lawn may be the ultimate "reverse" status symbol if this drought continues.

Gun Nut

Anonymous said...

Once again I will say that if the state would have started to build that large lake by Ashland several years ago it would have been almost full with last years flood.
The Platte is a small river. If the lake would have been built then Lincoln wouldn't be in this predicament.

Anonymous said...

We still have a 'lush', green lawn. I don't know why; we're just watering on our designated days and the sprinklers are not set to water any longer than they've always been set for. Maybe it's because most of our front yard and part of the back yard is shaded by enormous maple trees. Tom, you're making me feel guilty because our yard still looks nice! And our neighbors probably think we're sneaking out at night and watering again. I feel like I need to put a banner across the front of our house saying, "FOLLOWING CITY WATER RESTRICTIONS...REALLY, WE ARE!"

Anonymous said...

You took the words right out of my mouth. Nothing gets me more upset right now than seeing a lush green lawn. Especially the ones that are in front of fast food restaurants, gas stations, Wal-Mart!? Even if they are on their own well, I think some sense of civic duty would dictate that they should cut back and quit watering the streets. Come on businesses, show your customers that you care.

The Right Wing Professor... said...

Why don't you do something about the INS/ICE building at 8th and S? The sprinklers there have been flooding the sidewalks the last two Mondays.

Steve said...

I think the mandatory rationing of water has the same effect that gasoline rationing had back in the 70's. They went by license plate numbers in California, odd numbers could get gas on odd days, even numbers on even days. People who normally got gas once a week or even less often started going to the pumps every other day to top off their tanks. It caused much more of a problem than we already had.

Tom Casady said...

2:44,

I hear ya. It really doesn't take that much water to keep things looking good if you have plenty of shade. I'm baking in the sun at my place, so I'd have to pour it on the keep it green, and I'm neither spending the money nor wasting the water to do so. If the shoe fits...

Anonymous said...

You're free to leave office anytime and I will be certain to do what I can to speed that along. Your post reads as angry that you cannot control the people that elected you.

Tom Casady said...

5:34,

Wow, I sure wasn't intending it that way. I think the vast, vast majority of citizens are doing their part to conserve water and obey the law, but there are a few out there who just don't seem to be tracking. As I said, I think most are just disconnected from daily news, although some really seem to be prioritizing their lawn somewhat obsessively in light of the gravity of our situation. In any event, I think we have been incredibly patient in helping people obey the law--as witnessed by two citations for over 400 reported violations.

I guess I'll try to be more careful not to come across as angry. Perplexed is a better description of how I feel.

Tom Casady said...

Okay, upon further review, it's a little snarky. I will endeavor to be better in the future.

Steve said...

I never knew you were elected, Tom.

Tom Casady said...

Steve,

True, but I must confess to unnecessary sarcasm on occasion..

David said...

Tom, the real trick is to be able to distinguish between unnecessary sarcasm and necessary sarcasm. I think you're doing fine!

Anonymous said...

Is there a restriction that says we can't allocate a ration of water per household/business, and for every gallon over that amount monthly, charge at a higher rate? I think you would have better self-regulation that way as opposed to feast/famine controls.

Anonymous said...

I had only watered my yard twice all year. That is until the water restrictions hit. Now I water on all my permitted days. Like Steve said at 3:38pm, it is having the opposite effect. How about this idea. When the City/County building shuts off their sprinklers, I will shut off mine. Typical Democrats. Do as I say, not as I do!!

Tom Casady said...

12:54,

Already exists. Internally, it's called "Tier 3 water". The rate is more than double. Some folks are going to faint when they open their September water bill, which covers their July and August usage.

Anonymous said...

Lincoln so needs a Codes department that has authority to issue citations instead of relying on Police to chase the down the criminal water violaters.

Anonymous said...

I don't generally engage in flame bait on blogs, but I'll make an exception in this case. To all those here who are watering at all, even within the legal parameters, you should give some serious thought to how you are using water. To those who are complaining about any kind of rationing, you need to get a clue. Water management issues are going to be a significant challenge for society over the next 100 years. The implications of that challenge will have a significant impact on public safety and the lives of people in the community at large. Just because it falls from the sky and runs from the tap when you turn it, water isn't magic and it is a very real possibility that it won't be there someday. Humans can live without gasoline, we can't live without water. The level of waste of what is arguably the most valuable resource on the planet is appalling to me, and should be appalling to more of you. Yes, you. The one I'm pointing my finger at when I type this. Stop wasting water on your lawn. Stop wasting water by running the tap when you brush your teeth. Stop wasting water by running your shower to 10min before you get in to warm it up. Stop wasting water by washing your car that isn't dirty in the first place. Stop wasting water by irrigating crops that, if they need that much irrigation, have no business being grown where you are truing to grow them the first place. STOP WASTING OUR WATER! It isn't your water, it is OUR water.

There has been a good part of human history when water rights have been the rise and fall of empires. Water is not a something to be taken for granted. You like to complain about the cost of a gallon of gas? Keep blithely ignoring this problem and you'll be paying that for a bottle of water.

Thank about it.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 1:36PM: Isn't bottled water another waste of water?

Anonymous said...

"I don't generally engage in flame bait on blogs"

I seriously doubt that, partly because your diatribe reads suspiciously like multiple posts from the LJS comment boards.

Anonymous said...

Now that the LJS is limiting the number of times you can view and comment on-line for free, it is possible some who like to start trouble and rant about nothing are coming here to try to show everyone how smart they think they are.

Steve said...

I sure hope Tom keeps this blog rational, respectful, and occassionally humorous, and doesn't let it turn into the podium for idiots like LJS does.

Anonymous said...

I am greatly in favor of more water restrictions but, PLEASE include an exception for edible gardens. People may garden into late fall, depending on the temperatures, so it is essential that people be able to water them, so they can eat. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I cant help but notice that the city/ county building waters every day.

Water drinker said...

3 of 10 houses on my block were watering this morning. Plus a bunch of businesses and churches on 84th. I would say the message has still not been communicated. The city should restrict the amount of water each household is allocated, not the days watered. Read meters more often in a drought and bill progressive fines through the water system accounting. Look to San Antonio as a model city for water management.

ARRRRG!!!! said...

If this keeps up, I'm going to be rich.

Anonymous said...

With three kids I'd say we use more water in laundry than we do in our yards. However, when the city announced voluntary restrictions, I stopped watering my yard immediately. A brown lawn may look bad, but it doesn't need mowed either! And it helps me find those nice green weeds to so that I can pull them!

Steve said...

If the shortage is serious enough that people shouldn't be watering at all, the city should act accordingly and ban all watering, or impose some other means of limiting water use. Until they do, lay off the people who are using water within the existing limitations. There are probably things many of the complainers do that I think are wasteful or stupid, but you don't hear me ragging on them as long as they're not breaking any laws.

RINGO said...

Saw something on the news the other day about regulating electrical power. A company gave out free programmable thermostats to people, the only catch being is that when the grid was in danger of being overloaded, the power company could remotely reset your thermostat to conserve power. I wonder if they could do something like that with the water? So when Joe citizen exceeds the amount of water a normal family needs the water gets cut back or better yet completely turned off from a certain time period from say 0900-1600 and off again from 22-00 to 0500. Would allow people to take their showers cook their dinner etc., but would prevent the boneheads from hooking up the sprinklers to run all day and all night for the sake of a green lawn.

Anonymous said...

It might be worth doing this just to enrage the nannies, who would think you were liberally watering your lawn when no one was looking. I can just picture some powerless, embittered busybody angrily spending all day and night trying to capture video of their neighbor using a sprinkler on prohibited days, missing meals and sleep in pursuit of their fruitless goal.

On a related note, I see that we had 160 "water calls" by 2pm today. That's roughly half the incident calls! The idea of getting their hated neighbors a $500 fine and 6 months in jail seems to be filling many with maleficent and obsessional glee as they stir the...manure. Personally, my lawn looks like the director's - golden brown - but I've always disliked busybodies.

Anonymous said...

Tom,
You mentioned in your post that there were some people who weren't tuned into the news and who have timers that didn't get shut off. I had heard there were water restrictions, but our yard was so dead I didn't even think twice about water restrictions. I quit reading the LJS once they started charging. I only found out about the certain days of use by my husband receiving a ticket from a police officer. Even the police officer commented that he could tell we were barely watering our yard. Our sprinklers happened to go off and on a Monday and now my husband has to appear in court in a month with a potential fine. For $500, my yard could look a lot better. I realize everyone is in a difficult situation, but can you give anyone advice on what to do in court or how to prove that we truly didn't know? And are these hearings discretionary? I'm really freaking out. We haven't even mowed our lawn in months because it's been so dead, I would never have dreamed we were committing a violation. I'm in a panic and would appreciate some advice for those of us who were truly unaware.

Steve said...

I feel badly for someone truly in the position of 4:27, and I would expect there are more in her situation. I think $500 is way too much for a violation of this nature. There are probably thousands of people who knowingly and intentionally break laws that cause more than $500 in damage or other loss to others that get off with less of a penalty than that. While I understand that ignorance of the law is no excuse, I also think the penalty should fit the crime, and this one doesn't (IMHO).

Tom Casady said...

Steve,

If anyone gets maxed for a first offense, I will personally donate to the fund. I've been a cop for 38 years. The only people who get maxed for City ordinance violations of this type are chronic repeat offenders with bad attitudes and multiple convictions.

HR said...

Hi Tom, Thanks for your service. I have seen a few signs about the water restriction, but mostly I just know with every drought it is common sense to save the water. When I relocated here for military from West Texas, Texas had been coming off a more than 2 year drought. We just knew to save. I wish the patrol did not have to be used in this way, (someone mentioned codes violation dept?) because I would much rather they are out and available. A sprinkler being on should not require an officer, but a maniac in my street should. I am completely on your side, I just wish more people knew so they would not take up the officers we might need for safety. Last year I called dispatch about a suspicious person in my yard, the officer was there in less than two minutes. I don't want that to stop. I hope people get the message soon! Thanks for your service and blog!

Clean said...

Agreeing with 7:30, it seems a bit of overkill to have patrol officers running around on water complaints. Aren't there other City folks who could respond to these? Water department? Non-commissioned officers? Volunteers? I know that some escalate to citations, but that's a lot of money and training for over-watering.

Looking at it from California (which is actually more of a desert than Nebraska is), I second the suggestion that water bills be sent out monthly rather than bi-monthly, during the summer.

Does Lincoln have "smart" water meters? Mine is a small town, but I get a letter or phone call when my meter runs for 24 hours, even if it's only a drip. I'm not positive, but I'll bet they can be programmed to watch for over-usage, too.

Tom Casady said...

Clean,

Agreed, but the options are few at present. Imagine the logistics of ramping up Lincoln Water System to respond to 200+ field complaints yesterday: how many employees, vehicles, and radios would be needed, not to mention a call processing and dispatch operation. Given the fact that we've had mandatory watering restrictions exactly twice in the past 38 years that I know of, I suppose a temporary fix involving police officers might be the most cost effective.

If this turns out to be the "new normal" we may need to come up with another plan that uses a less costly resource. As you say, civilians could do this work and the citation could be certified mail to the owner of record.

Not sure about the meters. I know they are smart, but I don't know how smart. Wouldn't that be nice if the meter could do the work and shut you down if you exceeded normal indoor usage thresholds on a prohibited day, and call/text/email you to let you know that you're into the tier three pricing structure?

Tom Casady said...

HR,

Thanks very much. I think we'll be able to handle this okay for now, but what concers me is that these conditions become the norm. I have learned more about hydrology is the sat two weeks than I ever thought I would, and I am told that these tend to be muti-year events. If this is a new normal, we need to think about a more efficient compliance plan.

Anonymous said...

Why dont we utilize Parking enforcement to enforceing these water laws? Seems police have better things to do.

jj said...

Tom,
I am very upset with your comments regarding those who have green grass being self-indulgent people Really?? I am a single woman who owns a home here in Lincoln. I take pride in my home, a lot more than I can say about many of those who live around me. I have managed for the most part to keep my grass green. I have done this by keeping my grass longer when I mow rather than mowing nearly to the roots! The grass will shade itself. Also you should be using a grass that may be suited a little better for hot weather which Blue Grass is NOT! I do have some shade in my yard and that does help. I also have underground sprinklers and ONLY water on my designated day. I have, for the most part of this summer, only watered 3 times a week; I cannot afford to be frivolous. I do work really hard on this and every aspect of my home....only to have homes in my area not taken care of and kill my property value like those people who got into homes when they should not have and then just walked away from them leaving the eyesores for us to deal with. Maybe we should look to making Lincoln a beautiful city and taking some pride in what we have and conserving as well. Both can be done. How hard it is to really paint a house? By looking around you would think there was a paint shortage in Lincoln! As far as referring to people like me as being self-indulgent...I used to care about all people and never used to be judgmental until people felt the need to judge me. I wish I could move my house and the lot is sits on far far away from Lincoln....WOW

Tom Casady said...

10:02,

Well, over the past several years, we have lost all but a handful of our civilian paraprofessional staff, so there really aren't enough to handle this volume, and if we put them to work on this, someone would have to cover their other calls. Moreover, they do not have legal authority to issue misdemeanor citations of this type. That could be changed, but it would take a few weeks to go through the ordinance-modification process.

jj,

Look, if the shoe fits wear it. If you're able to keep your lawn nice and green through shade and leaving it long, and legal watering, have at it. I'm not talking about you: I'm talking about a fast food restaurant that's pouring enough water on it's grass to float a battleship. Yes, I think there are some homeowners who are going way overboard, but if they aren't violating the law, I can't do anything about that. Maybe their next bill will modify their habit, maybe not.

Anonymous said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gKwTXCUSSVY

RINGO said...

I know the issue regarding the water has been posted to death, but the thing that scares me most is the comment which is probably very true is:

The vast majority of the violators have simply been people who are oblivious to the restrictions.

In this post 9-11 world it's unbelievable that there are so many people out of touch with what's going on. If (God Forbid) we are faced with a natural disaster or terrorist attack resulting in a chemical or nuclear release where the recommended course of action would be to "shelter in place" these same people not aware of whats going on would be the same people law enforcement, fire and medical would have to rescue because they were unaware of the immediate danger (no doubt to go outside to adjust the sprinkler heads) the issue of water shortage seems like a minor issue, but it represents a more serious issue when it comes down to emergency management and homeland security.

RINGO said...

The portion of the post that concerns me is:

The vast majority of the violators have simply been people who are oblivious to the restrictions... there are tens of thousands of people in Lincoln who never pick up a newspaper, never check the local news on the Internet, and never listen to a news broadcast on the radio or TV.

The water issue for some seems to be a minor inconvenience, but the fact that tens of thousands of people are out of the loop represents a larger problem. In the event of a nuclear or chemical release either by accident or terrorist attack and the mandate is given to "shelter in place" until the danger has passed, these tens of thousands of people will be the ones having to be rescued, seek medical attention and diverting emergency assets to help them, because they were out of the loop.

Anonymous said...

I think you should suggest watering a small amount on your watering days. Some of my neighbors run their sprinklers for hours on their watering days, a couple times a day. That's worse than watering everyday.