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Residential water use

Tony Manthey waters a portion of his lawn on Thursday, July 26, 2012, in Lincoln, before the city put water use restrictions in place.

GWYNETH ROBERTS/Lincoln Journal Star

Former Mayor Don Wesely remembers the 2002 drought well.

It was weeks of dry, hot conditions and no rain that sparked five weeks of water restrictions.

The administration was a few days away from imposing restrictions that wouldn't let you water your lawn at all when the rain came pouring down in August.

But what Wesely remembers more than the stress of those decisions were the people who called the police on those who watered on the wrong days.

"Neighbors were turning in neighbors. Little old ladies were getting called on for sprinkling water on their flower pots," the former Lincoln mayor said Thursday. "It got so bad, some neighbors got into arguments and even some fights over watering on the wrong day.

"Lincolnites are among the nicest people in the world, but not all Lincolnites are always nice."

That was the last time Lincoln had been under mandatory water restrictions until a week ago Thursday when Mayor Chris Beutler announced restrictions limiting outdoor water use because of one of the worst droughts in decades.

In addition to water restrictions, the city looked for ways to use the water from its pools, which closed this past weekend. On Wednesday, water was collected from Woods Park Pool to be used for routine sanitary sewer maintenance.

The outdoor water restrictions call for watering lawns on certain days, depending on your address.

Since that announcement, more than 350 people have called police to report violators.

Public Safety Director Tom Casady said about half the violators are businesses and half are residences.

The peak was Monday, a no-watering day, with 172 calls. The rest of the days have averaged about 30 to 40 calls.

The calls have come from all over the city. Noticeable holes in the map provided by the Lincoln Police Department are the industrial parks in Air Park and along Cornhusker Highway.

Most people either don't know how to alter the schedules of their automated sprinklers or, in the case of businesses, don't know whom to contact to get it corrected, Casady said.

Some are simply unaware there is a ban because a lot of people don't pay attention to the news, Casady said.

Officers have been giving warnings or leaving notes with offenders, he said. Most are complying, and police aren't writing reports but are tracking dispatch records to make sure they don't have repeat offenders.

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Casady has made a few select calls to businesses or churches that don't seem to know who is responsible for the sprinklers.

"Remember that tens of thousands of businesses and residences don't seem to have an issue with this," he said. "Good Samaritans have been driving around, patrolling neighborhoods, writing down addresses for us in the wee hours of the morning."

Casady said he preferred to have neighbors knock on doors or leave a note before calling police, because most simply don't know about the restrictions.

"You see these strings of addresses in the same neighborhood, and you can tell someone walking their dog is taking them down," he said. "In a way, they are being helpful, but it's just as easy for them to knock on the door."

An apartment complex has been given a ticket, but Sgt. Jeri Roeder said it was a miscommunication on the first day of restrictions when an officer didn't realize they were supposed to issue warnings first.

The city attorney likely will not charge that ticket.

Even if people don't comply with the law, it is unlikely they would serve time. The penalty is up to a $500 fine or six months in jail.

Whether a judge actually would sentence someone to jail is up to him or her, Police Chief Jim Peschong said.

"The penalties for this are similar to littering, but not many people are in jail for littering," Peschong said. "It's up to the judge, but if a person continues to disregard the restrictions or if they (have prior offenses) and are constantly before a judge, they may wind up sending someone to jail."

Reach Jordan Pascale at 402-473-7120, jpascale@journalstar.com or follow him @LJSPascale.

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County/City reporter for the Lincoln Journal Star

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