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John Daley reportingOfficials in Utah's largest city say they're serious about water conservation. Now in the works--a new five-stage drought management plan. And if things get bad enough, big fines.
"If we get to a point where to maintain public health and safety for Salt Lake City and our water customers, we will enforce actions as we need to," says Salt Lake water conservation coordinator Stephanie Duer.
First Salt Lake City changed its water rate structure to encourage saving. Now, it's developing an aggressive new drought management plan.
The goal is education. But those failing to get the message of conservation could face heavy citations.
For months, a variety of city officials and citizen committees have been working on this new plan. They've studied what other cities like Phoenix, Tucson and Denver have done.
Worst case scenario, we could see water cops and thousand dollar fines.
But the hope is that with conservation, it never gets to that.
As bad as Salt Lake's drought is, sprawling Denver is a couple of years ahead. Things have gotten so serious the city implemented a drought patrol, handing out fines of up to $500.
Drawing on lessons learned from our Western neighbors, Salt Lake is getting ready to unveil a new drought plan called a water shortage contingency plan.
One element of it is a five-stage system not unlike the terror alert system, only based on thirst.
Looking at water supply and demand, the mayor in consultation with the public utilities deparment, could declare the water situation advisory mild, moderate, severe, or critical.
The city's water conservation coordinator says the worse the drought gets, the more severe the measures.
"If we respond quick enough, early enough, we can forestall as a community a severe or critical drought stage. By doing that, we can forestall enforcement and mandatory restrictions."
Part of the plan includes a healthy dose of education, not just about lawn watering, but also information to be made available to businesses, to give them tips on how to conserve.
"Not just for homeowners, but for businesses. So we provide information on how to run a car wash, laundromat, hotel or restaurant, or pools more efficiently."
The penalties would get tougher with each stage. In the moderate stage, restrictions would first be placed on municipal water users.
In severe, homeowners and businesses would face mandatory restrictions, which get even tougher in a critical drought state.
Salt Lake's version of Denver's water patrol would first give water wasters a warning. With each additional offense would come citations, fines, even a water shut-off, but no criminal charges.
"We've proposed $100 to $1,000 including shut off or flow restrictors."
There are two parts to this: The plan, which has been developed through public utilties and the mayor's office. And new ordinances, which would need city council approval.
The council is expected to begin grappling with that within the next month and may vote by the fall.