Capitol View - Drought Doubt Grips State, Lincoln Could Jail People For Watering

By J.L. Schmidt - Statehouse Correspondent, The Nebraska Press Association
Lincoln’s Public Safety Director says a brown lawn in the Capital City is a “badge of good citizenship.”
A southeast Nebraska farm wife laments a green and healthy looking soybean field without bean pods setting on the plants. No pods, no crop.
One can walk across the mighty Platte River at places like Fremont and Columbus and Grand Island without hardly getting their feet wet.
A farmer north of Kearney has already cut his corn crop, leaving only two rows of wilted stalks, some without even a mini ear on them, in the middle of the field awaiting an adjuster’s inspection.
These are the sights in the midst of one of the state’s most gripping droughts since the “Dirty Thirties.” The aftermath of a mild winter that left little snow in the Rockies to melt and fill the North and South Platte tributaries to the Platte River, the statewide lifeline that some years has been teeming at the banks.
Mandatory water restrictions went into force in the Capital City August 9, for the first time in a decade. The rules are simple. No lawn watering on Mondays. Odd-number addresses water Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Evens get to water on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Police initially issued 470 warnings for violations.
On August 19, Public Safety Director Tom Casady invited the media to his brown front lawn to announce that police would begin issuing tickets the next day. On Monday, an official “no water” day, one of the first tickets – complete with a fine of up to $500 and/or as much as six months in jail – was issued to a popular Lincoln chain restaurant. Manager Jason Runge called the ticket “unfortunate and unexpected” because the Carlos O’Kelly’s in north Lincoln had received no warning. He said the automatic sprinklers have since been reprogrammed.
What? Jail time? Imagine the conversation: “Yeh, I’m in here for waterin’ my lawn.” City Attorney Rod Confer says he’s working with the county court on an option that would let people pay a set fine instead. Lincoln joined 19 other Nebraska communities under water restrictions, but is the only one to impose fines and/or jail time.
With a goal of reducing water consumption to no more than 60 million gallons a day, some are pointing fingers claiming more compliance is needed. Critics have said the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has stopped only 15 percent of its irrigation. A University spokeswoman says the University did empty its iconic Broyhill Fountain by the Student Union. Lincoln Public Schools says it is cutting back on watering athletic fields. The governor said lawns at the mansion and other state buildings would be watered only twice a week.
Lincoln’s well fields near Ashland depend on the Platte River for replenishment, but with historic low levels, the river is not recharging the aquifer, said city water engineer Jerry Obrist. The aquifer level is half gone and “we’ve got the fall and winter ahead,” he said.
Kinda makes one yearn for last summer when the problem was TOO MUCH water.

Last modified onWednesday, 29 August 2012 09:41

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