Indianapolis water conservation rules gain teeth

Indianapolis water conservation rules gain teeth

In a city with traditionally abundant water supplies, Dick Ristine still conserves. The Indianapolis resident monitors his water bill and has installed low-flow, high-efficiency showerheads, fixtures and toilets throughout his home. He's even outfitting his Crawfordsville vacation cabin with a 400-gallon underground cistern that will reclaim rainwater. If only Indianapolis Water had more customers like Ristine.

When the city-owned utility asked customers to voluntarily use less water in June 2007, the request was largely ignored and the city had no way to enforce it. Instead, demand pushed treatment facilities to a single-day record of 228 million gallons treated and distributed - 8 million gallons more than the system is rated to produce. That experience and others set in motion a series of events that culminated Feb. 9 in the City-County Council's approval of its first enforceable conservation ordinance. The next time the city asks people to conserve, it can fine them up to $2,500 if they don't comply.

"In 2007, people were asked to conserve and it wasn't taken seriously," says ordinance sponsor Councilor Marilyn Pfisterer. "When there's a crisis, there needs to be a way to heighten awareness and enforce conservation."

Ristine says he agrees with the tougher rules. "You see businesses and residences watering their grass when it's raining, or watering sidewalks instead of greenery," Ristine says. "I think [an ordinance] is necessary. I'm sorry appropriate behavior has to be mandated with civil penalties, but that's the only way to make it hit home."

Indianapolis' newly minted mandatory conservation plan gives the mayor the authority to compel the estimated 830,000 residents served by Indianapolis Water in Marion County to conserve. If levels in Morse or Geist reservoirs - which supplement Indianapolis' main water sources, the White River and Fall Creek - fall to 50 percent below adequate supply, the mayor can declare a water warning and ban lawn irrigation, washing cars in the driveway and filling swimming pools.

If reservoirs reach 75 percent depletion, the mayor can declare a water emergency and ban any outdoor water use, save for vegetable gardens. Penalties start at $100 and top out at $2,500.

Despite droughts being rare in Central Indiana, city leaders say Indianapolis needs to be prepared for shortages similar to those recently in Atlanta and Charlotte, N.C. "It's important to have these measures in place," says John Cochran, special counsel to Mayor Greg Ballard.

Even in times of plenty, homeowners can take simple steps to save water - and by extension, money. "First, you want to eliminate dripping faucets," says Eugene Schuler, owner Schuler Plumbing in Noblesville. "And periodically use food coloring to test your toilet's tank for leaks - a bad flapper can cost you 50 to 70 gallons a day."

Virginia Land of Danville found out about flappers the hard way. She didn't know her home's toilets were hemorrhaging water until her water bill doubled in one month. Replacing all her home's toilet flappers dramatically reduced her next bill. "I worry about water usage," she says, "Not only because the bill was high, but because we have to look out for the next generation's water."


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