Water use restrictions get tougher

City officials said Tuesday night new, stricter restrictions on water use will go into effect Sunday, as the municipality attempts to comply with cuts in water deliveries from the Colorado River Municipal Water District.City Manager Gary Fuqua notified the Big Spring City Council during its Tuesday night meeting the city would be going to a two-hour-a-week schedule for outdoor watering, similar to those adopted by other neighboring cities also struggling with drought conditions.The city of Big Spring currently allows for four hours each week, including Saturdays from 6 p.m. until 10 p.m. for residential customers and Tuesdays from 6 a.m. until 10 a.m. for businesses.According to Fuqua, the new restrictions will permit residential customers whose address ends in an odd number to water for a two-hour period Tuesdays between the hours of 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. Residential customers whose address end in an even number will be allowed to water for a two-hour period Thursdays between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m.Commercial establishments will be permitted to water in accordance with the Drought Contingency Plan for a two-hour period Wednesdays between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m.“Starting April 1, the city will be limited to 6.3 million gallons per day by CRMWD, which is approximately 500,000 gallons a day less than what we were allowed this time last year,” Fuqua told the council. “We'll be monitoring our water usage very closely.“These cuts will allow use to remain in Stage 3 of the Drought Contingency Plan, which is a very good thing because once we go to Stage 4, it's much more restrictive.”Fuqua said he and other city administrators realize the new schedule will make it tougher for law enforcement and code enforcement officials to regulate, but he's hopeful citizens will make it a matter of honor.“We realized very quickly that by trying to give citizens a little flexibility in when they water we were making it harder to identify those people who are cheating,” Fuqua said. “To a certain degree, we're relying on our citizens to be honest and only use their two hours during that time. Make no mistake, however, law and code enforcement will still be watching, and neighbors will still be calling, so this definitely is not a free pass to water for the entire four-hour block of time.”Despite the need for enforcement of the ordinance, Fuqua said that is not the driving force behind the city's efforts.“Our job in all of this isn't to write tickets,” he said. “Our job is to conserve water, and it's certainly our hope the citizens of Big Spring will help us do just that. The need for water impacts everyone.”Fuqua said if drought conditions don't improve considerably this summer, area residents will likely have to change their focus from saving their lawns to more substantial, long-term plans.“It's looking more and more like we're going to have to focus on trying to keep the trees and shrubs alive and let the lawns go,” Fuqua said.Also during Tuesday night's meeting, the council did not take action on a proposed amendment to its raw-water agreement with Alon USA, owner of the Big Spring Refinery.According to City Finance Director Peggy Walker, the municipality has been in negotiations with Alon USA regarding its contract with the city for water for some time now.“We've already met several times with officials from Alon USA regarding a rate increase, and while they don't want to pay any more than they absolutely have to, they understand the city's plight,” Walker said. “The last rate increase that was made to the contract — which was originally signed in 1957 — was in 1997, and it called for the refinery to pay the city's cost for the water plus 5 cents. So, whatever rate the city has to pay CRMWD for water, plus a nickel, is what they have been paying since then.”However, due to scheduling conflicts, Walker said negotiations haven't yet been completed.“We expected to have them completed and be able to bring them back for the council to approve during the next council meeting,” Walker said.