ST. GEORGE – City officials discussed the possibility of implementing fines for water wasters during a St. George City Council work meeting Thursday.
St. George had a water waste ordinance just over a century ago, René Fleming, the city’s energy and water resources services coordinator, said to the council. In 1909, residents would be fined $25 and face up to 25 days in the city jail, she said.
“So, we know that way back when, they took water very seriously,” Fleming said. “I think we still take it seriously, but we do have an issue with, I will call them ‘egregious’ water wasters.”
The city hasn’t had a fine on water for a long time now, and while Fleming didn’t suggest the city reinstate jail time for water-wasting offenders, the concept of an ordinance fining “egregious” wasters $25 after being twice-warned was put before the City Council.
Examples of egregious wasters were people who do not fix leaking water systems and end up “watering the street,” as well as landlords who do not fix water problems, as their tenants pay the water bill. As the city water is relatively cheap, Fleming said, the landlord may not see an incentive to address the issue.
Neighbors or city crews may report properties where water is being wasted, Fleming said, but there is currently little she can do about it.
“There’s really nothing I can do beyond asking, ‘Would you please fix the problem?’” she said.
The system Fleming proposed would involve having someone from the city – namely herself of another city employee – look into reported offenses firsthand. Once confirmed, an offender would be given a verbal warning and 15 days to fix the problem. If the problem remained, then a written warning with another 15 days to comply would be issued.
The third time is when the $25 fine comes into play. The fine would be added to the utility bill and would remain and be added to each month thereafter.
“For the folks who just refuse to get it fixed, the only way I’ll make any kind of a point at all is if they have some sort of a fee,” Fleming said.
Fines collected could go toward education and rebate programs related to water conservation, Fleming added.
“We’re looking at water that is running or standing for 20 minutes or more, so it is something that is more than just overspray,” Fleming said.
There are times when water runs free that are recognized by Fleming’s proposed ordinance to not be subject to the fine, such as storm water runoff, water used in firefighting, dust control, hazardous materials abatement, inspection of water systems, and other measures related to safety and water system maintenance.
Instances of alleged water wasting would have to be reported to the city before they are investigated, Fleming said. The city will not actively go searching for potential violations, she said.
“Honestly, we hope not to collect any fines,” said Scott Taylor, director of the city’s Water Services Department.
Fleming agreed, but also said she’d like to have something on the books to help enforce water conservation.
The proposed ordinance comes ahead of the city’s expected implementation of its annual water conservation measures during drought years.
As summer approaches, mandatory restrictions on watering tend to be issued, limiting the times of day when residents can use water outdoors for lawns or gardens. Individuals who do not abide by the restrictions have yet to be subject to any kind of penalty.
Fleming previously told St. George News that the city would rather educate residents about water conservation rather than penalize them.
Enacting fines is a proposed part of the city’s overall conversation plan, Fleming said, but to date it hasn’t been put into action.
“What you’ve presented, I think, is a viable way to start the process,” City Councilman Joe Bowcutt said. “We may need to adjust it later, but I think it needs to be in place – it needs to have some teeth in it.”
Councilwoman Bette Ariel said the proposal sounded fair and was common sense.
It’s not a steep fine, Mayor Jon Pike said, and no one likes to pay a fine of any amount, so it may be enough. Along with a potential ordinance, the mayor also said there are other water conservation measures the city may need to look at in the future, such as revisiting the city’s water rate structure.
“If there’s anything scarce and precious in this area, it’s water,” Pike said. “It’s something we need to think about for sure.”
As it was a work meeting, the City Council did not take any action on the proposed ordinance at the time, though generally appeared in favor of the idea.
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