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Water violations adding up

6/1/2014

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

As the depth of the drought -- and water levels in city wells -- deepen, the number of water use violations reported to the Hays Police Department has been soaring.

So far this year, Hays Police Chief Don Scheibler said Friday, officers have written 71 warning notices.

There's no fine associated with a first-time violation.

But Scheibler said officers also have written four second-incident violations, which carry $50 fines.

One third-time violator has been cited, an infraction that carries a $200 penalty.

In all of 2013, Scheibler said, 109 written citations -- covering the range of violations -- were issued.

Rules affecting outside water use changed in early April, after Hays City commissioners agreed to move into the second phase of its water conservation plan.

In tandem with that, the Division of Water Resources granted authority to the city of Hays to include private wells in the city's water conservation plan.

As a result, the ban on outside watering between 10 a.m. and 9 p.m. extends to all Hays residents regardless of the source of the water being used.

The drought also heightened enforcement of the city's ban.

The public is chipping in to help with that enforcement.

Fifty-two of the violations are a result of citizen complaints, Scheibler said.

The rest were initiated by officers, he said, either on routine patrol or an officer who has been assigned to water-use details rather than handling some administrative duties.

Recently missing what had been forecast as a good opportunity for rainfall, Scheibler said there's an increased focus making sure the city's water conservation is being followed.

That entails the officers' shift from administrative duties to water use violations, letting other patrol officers continue to focus on regular duties, such as traffic enforcement.

Scheibler said the department also will be utilizing two part time officers -- hired as part of a partnership with the Fort Hays State University criminal justice program -- to include water use enforcement in their duties.

"Our thought process is to have part time people assist in water conservation," he said.

So far, Scheibler said, the response to enforcement has been good.

"Overwhelmingly, people have been receptive in a drought situation," he said.

But it's not just enforcement that falls to the police department.

Officers also are answering questions about the city's water conservation plans, explaining the process and how it works. Scheibler said similar calls also are being made to city hall, the utility department and the city's water conservation officer.