BERLIN – With water pumps working 33 percent harder and water levels down by one foot, the Berlin Mayor and Council enacted mandatory water restrictions Monday night governing watering of lawns and gardens.
“Personally, I think it goes without saying, we have a problem,” said Berlin Mayor Thomas Cardinale.
The regulations restrict lawn and garden watering, including underground sprinkler systems, to Mondays and Thursdays from 7 p.m., to 8 a.m. Violations will incur fines of $25 per incident. Illicit use of underground sprinklers will result in the irrigation system’s water being disconnected. Watering with a hand container is permitted on all days.
Car washing was also banned under the draft emergency declaration, but that provision was removed.
“Am I the only one who has a problem with this not letting people wash their cars?” asked Council member Paula Lynch. “I know there are some folks in town who make their living washing cars, and you’ve got the power wash people.”
“This isn’t a ban on power washing,” said town attorney Dave Gaskill.
“I think we need to do something. I’d like to add some time in the day or on Saturday someone can wash their car,” Lynch said.
Council member Ellen Lang said it was critical to restrict water use in some fashion.
“The most important thing is irrigating and watering the lawn. I think that’s where most of the water is used,” said Lang.
Councilman Elroy Brittingham made a motion to strike the ban on car washing from the declaration. The amendment was approved, and the town council then voted to pass the restrictions.
The new regulations did not stand unchanged, however, once the public got a chance to comment at the meeting’s end.
Jim Hoppa told the council that he was concerned that the original 8 p.m. start time for watering was too late, forcing residents to undertake the task in the dark.
“I would request you revisit these hours and maybe make them 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. or 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. to give them daylight to get out in a safe manner,” Hoppa said. “To go tramping out in the dark, someone could be injured.”
“I think it’s a reasonable request,” said Council Vice President Gee Williams.
The town council passed the change in hours unanimously.
Resident Larry Smith challenged the council’s assertion that people need to be able to wash their cars because they have a lot of money and pride invested in their vehicles.
Smith said he has far more invested in his home and garden than in his car.
“I have no problem with the ban on car washing,” said Smith. “A lot of people can’t afford to replace shrubbery and grass.”
John Ross, deputy director of Worcester County public works, said in a later interview that lawn and garden watering uses up more water than washing a car.
Although Worcester County’s water system wells are down more than Berlin’s system, the county has no plans to enact restrictions.
“We’re pretty good. We haven’t had very much of a problem,” Ross said. “Our wells are probably down six or seven feet on average. We have some down eight feet and some down four. It’s not alarming to us.”
According to Ross, the county wells typically have 20 to 25 feet of water over the pumps. Water levels went down 12 to 14 feet in the 2002 drought, and if the county wells see that kind of drop this year, water use restrictions could be imposed, Ross said. There were no restrictions set in 2002 as several weeks of rain began shortly after levels reached that point.
“We’re recommending that residents be diligent and try to conserve water,” he said.