LINCOLN, Nebraska — The Lincoln City Council has approved drought rates for water, along with civil fines for violations of water restrictions, in case a drought emergency occurs this year.
The proposals approved during the council's meeting Monday won't go into effect unless the city declares a drought emergency. Lincoln remains in moderate drought, with more severe conditions farther west in the state, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Concerns about the city's water supply during last summer's drought forced the city to impose mandatory water restrictions. About 400 tickets were issued to Lincoln homeowners, renters and businesses for violating the restrictions, which required residents to follow a designated schedule for outdoor watering and washing cars.
The regulations were aimed at restricting city water usage to 60 million gallons a day.
Officials have said the new, higher emergency rates would encourage conservation and keep the Lincoln Water Department's finances from suffering as less water is used, resulting in less revenue for the department. The drought rates apply only to the volume of water used and don't affect other parts of a customer's bill, such as basic water and sewer fees.
City water customers are billed by the unit, which is equal to about 748 gallons, and the average household uses about 12 units a month, or nearly 9,000 gallons. Under the drought rates, a typical residential customer who uses about 15 units of water during summer would pay about $5 extra each month when the city calls for voluntary watering restrictions.
That figure reflects an increase of about 37 percent from non-drought rates. But under a critical shortage of water, with mandatory restrictions, the residential rate would rise 95 percent.
There are civil fines for those who violate the mandatory restrictions. The fine is $50 for the first offense, down from the $150 that was first proposed.
"It makes sense to make the first offense a little less severe, but make the second and third stick," City Councilman Jonathan Cook said.
The $50 fine goes to $75 if it isn't paid within a week. The fines are $250 for the second offense and $350 for the third. The civil fines replace the criminal fines that were assessed last year, which left violators with misdemeanors on their records.