The excuses won’t work anymore.
Beginning Monday, Lincoln police will issue a ticket to anyone caught violating the city’s mandatory water restrictions, regardless of whether the person has received a formal warning.
Public Safety Director Tom Casady announced the change at a news conference held Sunday on his crunchy, brown front lawn.
Police have responded to about 475 reported violations since the restrictions went into effect Aug. 9, but officers have opted to issue warnings in almost every case.
“I think the time has come where we’ll have to stop that,” Casady said.
Many of the violators said they weren’t aware of the restrictions or didn’t realize their automatic sprinkler system was running on the wrong day, he said.
“On Monday, we’re no longer accepting the excuses we’ve been accepting over the past 10 days."
The more stringent enforcement comes after the city’s water usage continued to top 60 million gallons on several days last week, he said, meaning the restrictions haven't worked as well as the city would like.
"Despite the mandatory restrictions, we’re still seeing very high water usage at a time when we have a historic drought (and) historic low flows in the Platte River near the Ashland well fill."
A majority of Lincolnites have been compliant, he said. And since the restrictions were put in place, citywide water use has dropped from an average of 65.1 million gallons per day in early August to 56.9 million gallons.
But Casady suspects some people watering more on their designated days instead of cutting back.
“This year, a tan yard is a sign of good citizenship,” he said.
Violators who are convicted may be punished by a fine of up to $500 or six months in jail, or both. Each day a violation occurs is a separate offense.
Casady said the tickets are not to the benefit of Lincoln police, who’d rather not have to deal with hundreds of citations Monday, but “the time has passed for warnings.”
The violations will be complaint driven -- no one with the city will check water meters or front lawns for violations.
And there will be exceptions: If someone has been gone from his home since the restrictions went into effect, for example. Residents with private wells and some businesses, such as commercial car washes, will continue to be exempt.
Casady said he hopes Lincoln residents will comply and let their lawns go dormant for the rest of the summer, just as he has done to his own.
If the city's daily water use doesn't dip significantly enough, he said, "we may be facing even more water restrictions in Lincoln."
That could include limiting outdoor watering to two days a week, or even a full watering ban. Those restrictions might not be necessary if water usage inches closer to 55 million gallons a day, said Jerry Obrist, chief engineer for the Lincoln Water System.
The last year mandatory water restrictions were in place, 2002, the river flow was much greater, averaging 1,192 cubic feet per second in August compared to the 332 cubic feet per second this month.
The lack of rain makes this year's situation more severe, as well.
The approximately 4 inches of precipitation this summer is the same amount that fell in 1936, one of the worst drought years on record.
The Platte River might bounce back a bit once farmers stop irrigating, Obrist said, but he called for better year-round water management to prevent the situation from getting so dire in the future.
“It’s going to be working with the Natural Resource Departments and farmers throughout the state, focusing more on stress irrigation,” he said.
“We do have a finite supply of water and everyone needs to pitch in and use a little less.”
City officials will meet again Thursday to review water use a river flow.