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Great Lakes Article:

Ever-changing water restrictions continue
By Patrick Ferrell
The Star (IL)
Published July 3, 2005

Outdoor watering restrictions in some area municipalities have conjured up images of elementary school tattle tales.

"People will call up and say, 'Hey I can't water my lawn, so my neighbor shouldn't be watering his,'" Oak Forest Police Chief Dennis Olszewski said. Since June 20, Oak Forest has responded to 40 complaints, about half of which came from residents calling about their neighbors.

In Mokena, at least one resident called police on her neighbor, a village trustee, who was watering his lawn at night, contrary to the village's then-watering restrictions. (Mokena recently joined Tinley Park, Orland Park and New Lenox in banning all outdoor watering, with the exception of manually watering plants and shrubbery with a watering can.)

The trustee said his wife mistakenly set the timer on the sprinkler to the wrong time. He received a warning from police, the same warning that most area residents receive if they are caught watering when they are not supposed to. Few municipalities have resorted to issuing fines.

"I think a lot of people don't know the restrictions exist," Oak Forest's Olszewski said. "Once we remind them, they comply."

Indeed, following restrictions has been difficult. Restrictions in some municipalities have changed numerous times over the course of a week, and neighboring areas often have different rules.

"It's like chasing a bouncing ball," Mokena Police Cmdr. Chris Surdell said.

Mokena has issued a handful of $50 fines, while neighboring Orland Park recently issued 155 $30 fines.

Tinley Park police on Wednesday knocked on one resident's door at 2 a.m. to tell her she was violating watering restrictions by having her sprinkler on.

Tinley Park Police Chief Mike O'Connell said police have responded to about 200 complaints, half of which were from neighbors; the rest were from part-time officers who have been charged with looking for violators. The department has not yet issued any $25 fines.

The same goes for Oak Forest, where officials only responded to about 40 complaints, Olszewski said.

The number of complaints severely declined after officials used an automated phone system to call all homeowners in the city to remind them of the restrictions.

Most of the 12 communities that purchase Lake Michigan water via Oak Lawn are on some type of restriction. The restrictions are necessary, officials say, because the hot dry weather combined with increased summer usage has depleted water reserves in the municipalities. Under federal law and international agreements with Canada, any municipality that takes water from the Great Lakes is given a prenegotiated allotment that it cannot exceed in a given day.

Mokena and New Lenox officials recently began mixing some well water with lake water because the villages were exceeding their daily allotment.

Towns to the east apparently don't have as many problems with outdoor watering as those on the Oak Lawn system.

South Holland receives Lake Michigan water via Chicago and Hammond, Ind., and has had no problems keeping reserves at 100 percent, said Jeff Han, acting public works director.

South Holland limits outdoor water usage to between 7 p.m. and 11 a.m.

That is also the case in Homewood, which buys Lake Michigan water via Harvey.

Neither town has resorted to issuing fines to residents who water during the day.

"Currently, our supply hasn't been depleted, so we're just asking residents to cooperate," said John Schaefer, Homewood's director of public works. "If our supplies begin running low, we'll send somebody out there to monitor usage."

Other municipalities, such as Chicago Heights, have zero restrictions on outdoor usage.

Other areas say restrictions and some type of enforcement are necessary.

"People like to keep their lawns looking perfect. It's a shame, but we need the water," Mokena's Surdell said.

After a 48-hour nonessential watering ban Monday through Wednesday, the village of Frankfort, which uses well water, requires some restrictions for irrigation.

By Saturday, a watering ban issued by the village of Lemont because of high temperatures, increased water consumtpion and a pump malfunction at one of the system's wells had been lifted. Summer watering restrictions still applied, however.

Summer time sprinkling regulations are in effect in Lockport.

Star reporter Susan DeMar Lafferty contributed to this report.

Patrick Ferrell may be reached at pferrell@starnewspapers.com or (708) 802-8832.

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