Violators of Columbia County's water conservation ordinance may soon have to pay for their crimes. The county is now doing the legal legwork needed to begin issuing citations to repeat offenders.
"We're still looking at the legal requirements, and before we hand out any citations, we obviously want to make sure we've touched all the bases," said Water Superintendent Billy Clayton. "This is not routine for us. It's been 10 years since we've had any type of water restrictions at all. I'm having to reinvent this wheel as we go along."
Mr. Clayton said two water conservation ordinances have been drafted by the county. The first allowed residents with odd-numbered addresses to water outside on odd-numbered calendar days, and residents with even addresses to water on even days. The second water ordinance, however, restricted the hours of watering from 5 to 9 a.m. and 5 to 9 p.m. on odd/even days.
The latest ordinance was approved by the county commission at its July 7 meeting, paving the way for the county's sheriff's department to issue water citations. The citation can carry a $500 fine or up to 60 days in jail. Violators will be given one warning before they are cited. Since water restrictions began May 28, Mr. Clayton said, his department has handed out 1,750 warnings.
"Our intent and our hope was not to have to issue any citations, just to get people to conserve so we could make it through this hot time," Mr. Clayton said, "but the last thing I want to do is drag a bunch of people into court and not be on solid ground."
The extremely dry, hot weather conditions and the increase in the demand for water created the need for water conservation measures. During the aftermath of last week's storms, water use plummeted from 22 million gallons a day to 10 million gallons a day, Mr. Clayton said. But with heat indexes expected to hover around 100 this week, there's no relief in sight.
"They're talking about it getting really hot again this week with a slight chance of rain in the afternoon -- we call it a fat chance," Mr. Clayton said. "That lack of rain and searing heat will bring us right back to where we started. That's why we're not going to back off water restrictions."
Columbia County's water system is capable of handling 22 million gallons a day, and there was one stretch where demand reached the limit for a 17-day period, Mr. Clayton said.
"Our concern is when we get over that 22 million gallon a day limit ... We know that the water restrictions will work in reducing demand if people will abide by them."