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Reporter

Nancy Hicks reports on Lincoln city government, but she’s been following the leaders of local and state government for more than 40 years.

Drought

Bones dry and vegetation takes root in 2012 where water should be in the Platte River upstream from the city of Lincoln's wellfields near Ashland. 

Lincoln last had mandatory water restrictions during the drought of 2012, when the Platte River flows that feed the city wellfields dropped to historic low levels.

The drought water restrictions primarily involved outdoor water use, and residents were allowed to water their lawns only on certain days. The city was trying to get water use down to 60 million gallons a day or lower.

This winter’s mandatory water restrictions are the result of too much water. The city's wellfields near Ashland were flooded, and only one wellfield has power to run the pumps for many of the wells.

And the rules this winter are an indoor affair, since there’s not much need to water an already water-soaked lawn. 

The mandatory drought water restrictions in 2012 lasted more than a month. This winter's water restrictions could end within a week, though city leaders are very cautious about predicting when restrictions might end. 

Residents tattle on violators

You wouldn't expect to observe a lot of water violations, since most of the conservation must take place inside a home or business.  

But police fielded 12 calls complaining of violations of the city’s mandatory water restrictions between Monday morning and Tuesday afternoon.  

They involved car washing, outdoor watering or restaurants not using throw-away utensils.

Two calls involved sprinklers running at a home in south-central Lincoln, and another call involved a resident washing a car at a home in southeast Lincoln.

Many of the calls reported car washes that were either operating or appeared to be open. 

Two calls were to Gorilla Wash at 32nd and O streets, a police spokeswoman said. During the first call, the car wash was running, but soon its owner disabled the payment center. Police were later called back because the business' lights were on, but they confirmed it was not operating.

Police contacted owners at other car washes to let them know they needed to close during mandatory water restrictions.  

Callers also reported restaurants not using disposable plates, cups and utensils. The restaurants said they hadn't heard about the water restrictions. 

There was also an unconfirmed report of a car dealership washing cars.

Tuesday, police had not ticketed anyone and had been only educating violators about the mandatory water restrictions.

They will ticket violators who have previously been warned by officers.

Civil fines under the water regulation system are $50 for the first offense but jump to $250 and $350 for the second and third offenses.

Support for sales tax plan

The quarter-cent sales tax for streets has solid support among voters, based on a telephone poll conducted for the private group supporting the proposal.

Fifty-seven percent of the people responding to the poll said they would vote for the proposed quarter-cent sales tax increase and 41 percent said they would vote against it.

The poll of 400 adults, who indicated they were registered to vote, was conducted in mid-February and was funded by the National Association of Realtors on behalf of the coalition of Lincoln businesses supporting the sales tax increase. That group, Fix Lincoln Streets Now Coalition, is using social media and traditional advertising to encourage people to vote for the quarter-cent sales tax proposal that will be on the April 7 primary ballot.

The poll called cellphone, VoIP and landline numbers, with quotas assigned to reflect the demographic distribution of Lincoln’s registered voters.

The quarter-cent sales tax increase would be earmarked for street construction and repair and would bring in about $78 million over six years.

The separate, city-funded educational campaign is also running radio and television advertisements explaining the reasons why the city needs the additional money from the quarter-cent sales tax for streets.

Apparently, the way you can tell this is an educational message, rather than a promotional message, is that the advertisement does not specifically tell people to vote for the ballot measure, though it certainly gives you many reasons to vote yes. 

Acting City Attorney Chris Connolly says he is comfortable the ads “are for an educational purpose, which is allowed by statute.”

Saving water by not shaving

Facebook friends are telling me how they are conserving water during Lincoln’s mandatory restrictions in rather ordinary ways. They turn off the water while brushing their teeth and washing their hands, take shorter showers, use disposal plates, cups and utensils, postpone doing the laundry.

But Lincoln police are taking the restrictions a step further by driving dirty cars and growing beards.

Police generally wash their cars several times a week at a commercial car wash. During the mandatory restrictions the cars are not being washed.

Police are also allowed to forgo shaving through Sunday.

Mothers' room at city hall

While the state ponders its first mothers room at the Capitol, the city and county are looking at a third mothers room in the three-building government complex along 10th Street.

The city has mothers rooms, a private room for women to breastfeed or pump breast milk, on the third floor of the County-City Building. There is also a mothers room on the first floor of the newly renovated 605 Building, the old county jail.

Now the Public Building Commission, which owns many of the county and city buildings, is planning to convert a first-floor storage area to a mothers room in the Hall of Justice, the middle building of the complex.

In order to save money on remodeling, the commission rejected a recent bid of $27,700 and will eliminate plumbing and a sink in the room.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7250 or nhicks@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSNancyHicks.

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