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August 15, 2003

Dozens of cities face curbs on water use
The Associated Press

Drought conditions are forcing more cities to impose mandatory water restrictions, and one natural resources district will consider future allocation of water to irrigators.

Residents of Seward, Neb., just finished their first week under such watering restrictions, the first time the city has imposed such rules in three decades.

They are not alone.

The most recent update from the Nebraska Health and Human Services System lists 26 communities restricting water use.

Paul Dammann, Seward's water superintendent, said it's too early to assess how much mandatory restrictions will help relieve the pressure on nine wells that are an average of 6 feet below their normal levels.

Residents with odd-numbered addresses can water lawns and gardens Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. For even numbers, it's Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. Fines of up to $500 can be assessed for violations.

"Most people are really responsive," Dammann said. "They understand it's dry and water levels are dropping."

The York City Council could give final approval next week to an ordinance that allows for fines and cutoffs in water service to people who fail to comply with residential water restrictions.

The problem in York is the fine sand in the aquifer that slows down the recharge rate.

"What's serious is the amount of water that's taken out day after day because of the lack of rain," City Administrator Jack Vavra said.

Vavra said the new rules for mandatory water restriction are unlikely to be in place in time for this season of summer watering.

The city is counting on voluntary conservation to hold usage below worrisome levels of 3 million to 3.5 million gallons a day.

Members of the board of directors of the Upper Big Blue Natural Resources District, based in York, on Thursday were to discuss possibly allocating irrigation water for farmers.

The district has never allocated irrigation water in its 30-year history.

John Turnbull, manager of the Upper Big Blue, calls water supplies "as tight as they've been probably since the late 1970s and early 1980s."

Allocation of irrigation water most likely won't happen this year.

However, even a discussion of tighter allocation rules at the committee level, including putting meters on wells, is a move into uncharted territory for the district.

"I'm at the point I'm not predicting votes," Turnbull said.

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