- The Washington Times - Monday, September 16, 2002

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Courtesy of Virginia's stubborn, three-year-long drought, the times have come to this water crimes.
Counties and cities across the state are issuing warning tickets, warrants and fines by the hundreds to residents illegally using water.
Neighbors are watching each other, too, passing on tips via hot lines.
The result has been impressive, in a crime-fighting sort of way.
Roanoke officials have "visited" about 450 water violators and given verbal warnings. Chesterfield County has issued 245 fines for illegal water use. Richmond issued 10 warning letters to people watering lawns on the wrong day.
This is serious stuff. Water levels in most of the state's reservoirs and rivers are nearing or at historical lows.
So many localities have clamped down hard, and not just with rhetoric.
Water patrols are enforcing mandatory water restrictions by driving city streets and subdivision roads day and night looking for an illegal sprinkler, a car being washed in the driveway or a spouting fountain.
Most of the 245 fines issued by Chesterfield County since Aug. 15 have been to first-time offenders. Most were fined $100, which is tacked on to their water bill. The maximum fine is $1,600 for repeat offenders.
"We sent out brochures to everybody" detailing water restrictions, said Fred Angel, customer operations manager for the Chesterfield utilities department. "That was our warning."
The rules have been getting steadily stricter. Voluntary water conservation guidelines issued in the spring by Richmond-area localities were made mandatory last month as the drought deepened. On Aug. 30, Gov. Mark R. Warner declared a drought emergency and banned lawn watering, though he left enforcement to the localities.
Three violators have been ticketed in Albemarle County, and the offenders face up to $500 fines.
"Our employees are routinely patrolling every day," said Bill Brent, executive director of the county Service Authority. Two offenders were ticketed for watering lawns with underwater irrigation systems. One offender was using a sprinkler to water grass.
Water levels at reservoirs in Albemarle and Charlottesville were at 59.6 percent of normal level as of Friday the lowest in memory.
Charlottesville has not handed out any fines but has been warning errant water users, often acting on tips from neighborhood informants.
"We're getting a lot of help from neighbors. A lot of people are passing on information," said Jim Palmborg, the city's public utility manager.
The water level at Roanoke's principal reservoir, Carvins Cove, is at an incredibly low 25 percent of normal.
Mike McEvoy, the city's director of utilities, said officials have been scrambling to get water to the city, digging a new well, buying water from other localities and using filtered water from a city spring to make up for Carvins Cove's diminished capacity.
Despite the 450 "visits" to violators in Roanoke, Mr. McEvoy said, "I've been really impressed with the compliance. We do a verbal warning, and most of the time that's sufficient."
Residents face up to $2,500 fines in the town of Orange, which initially imposed drastic restrictions when its only water source, the Rapidan River, virtually dried up. Before easing the restrictions, town officials had closed car washes and coin-operated laundries and urged residents to limit themselves to a single, three-minute shower per day.
Orange Police Chief James Otto said his department has issued a few warnings but has not fined anyone so far.
The water-conservation efforts including voluntary and mandatory restrictions, fines, warnings and programs to educate the public about the need to save water are apparently working.
In Roanoke, Mr. McEvoy said, water consumption has dropped from about 15 million gallons a day to about 13.5 million a day.
In Chesterfield, water use has also dropped, Mr. Angel said.
"I think that since we've gone to restrictions, there's been a drop in demand close to winter levels," he said.
"It's working for us."


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