LIVINGSTON, NJ — In order to maintain a static level of water within the Township of Livingston’s wells throughout the spring and summer months, which Township Engineer Jeanette Harduby said are consistently the most problematic when it comes to conserving water, the township has deemed it necessary to implement two-days-per-week water restrictions on the watering of lawns.
Residents at a special meeting regarding the ordinance on March 17 were prepared with questions and concerns about the new language added to the township’s water-conservation ordinance, which has yet to be voted on. The ordinance is intended to reduce water loss, use and waste in the area.
“It is certainly not our intention by any means to impose any undo hardships on our residents,” said Harduby, who presented a full layout of Livingston’s annual water usage and why the township needs to take drastic measures to conserve it. “You don’t need to water daily or for long periods to have a healthy lawn. Water is a valuable commodity: we have a limited amount available and we want to protect this resource for everyone.”
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) requires municipalities like Livingston to implement and enforce water-conservation measures. Livingston is also allocated a certain amount of water from the DEP that can be pumped from the township’s wells and additional water needs to be purchased from New Jersey American Water, which is increasing its rates and is 19 times more expensive.
According to Harduby’s presentation, 30 percent of Livingston’s total water usage is outdoors, 50 percent of water used outdoors is wasted, and water usage in Livingston consistently peaks after April and remains high through September. Even though the chart used for this particular presentation was from 2015, when there was a summer drought, Harduby said these statistics have been relatively consistent since 2010.
Residents in attendance on March 17 did not deny that water conservation is crucial, and all applauded the council’s effort to implement a new method of doing so, but several residents insisted that the restrictive, two-day-a-week system is not desirable and urged the council to reconsider.
Although Harduby’s presentation answered some of the questions that residents were curious about, many residents were still skeptical about only being able to water two days per week and some of the other restrictions.
According to Harduby, the new ordinance would implement three classes of restrictions on when homeowners can water their lawns: even addresses on Thursday and Sunday, odd addresses on Wednesday and Saturday, and anyone with no address on Tuesday and Friday. Livingston property owners, who are currently on an odd/even-day watering schedule, would also be required to water only between the hours of 6 a.m. and 9 a.m., or 6 p.m. and 9 p.m.
Using water to maintain decorative fountains, walkways and driveways would be prohibited and watering during rain would also be forbidden under the new ordinance. Anything involving reclaimed water use is permitted without restriction, as well as watering newly seeded lawns, testing sprinkler systems, watering with anything handheld and recreational sprinklers.
Common concerns included: not being able to water on an assigned day for a multitude of reasons; only being allowed to water between hours that specifically coincide with showering and hours of high mosquito presence; not being able to hose down walkways or vehicles; inadequate enforcement; and whether the council has established goals among other concerns.
In order to alleviate some of these doubts, Harduby reassured residents that they could still wash their cars and power-wash their homes without restrictions under this ordinance, and that they could contact the township should they have an issue with their assigned day due to work hours, vacation, Shabbat, etc. The council also reminded residents that the seemingly “excessive” $2000 penalty is only a maximum penalty, and that the township would initially distribute warnings to violators.
However, homeowners still came forward with concerns, many of which echoed the concerns of the Mayor and Township Council, and some potential solutions for better ways to conserve water.
“I also comply with the odd/even and I’m also in favor of water conservation and saving money for the tax payers today, tomorrow and in the future,” said a resident of 6 Sycamore Ave, who said the ordinance is “overstepping the big brother situation” being imposed. “I would suggest to you that before we step to this level of restrictions, there may be an interim step that we might want to take, allow the summer to go by and measure how much we save.”
As an example, he suggested that the town limit lawn watering to three days per week, including two weekdays, for the time being and see what difference it makes before implementing something so drastic. He said, and was echoed by other residents, that the comprehensive goal is to save money, save water and maintain an appropriate-looking lawns, but that it is a matter of how.
“I’m just overall concerned the [the proposal] is so limited that what’s going to happen a year from now is that you’ll have even more people here than you do tonight or more calls than before,” he said, reiterating the fact that the council needs to establish goals and also acknowledging the enforcement issues. “I just think there are ways to take an interim step, measure how successful we are, and then potentially recalibrate it if we need to at that point.”
Another resident suggested that the township take a look at which properties, whether they are households or businesses, use the most water during those peak months and restrict only the top 25-50, which the council agreed could be a possibility. Other suggestions were also taken into consideration during the meeting.
Township Manager Michele Meade said that the difficulty with establishing specific goals is that graphs only show that there is a consistent peak during summer months, but not whether the peak is specifically lawn-related or caused by outdoor water use.
Meade also announced that the township is currently deepening and expanding its wells, but that the township is restricted in how much it is permitted to take out. However, she also said the township is maximizing what it can take and has recently completed two backup wells to make sure Livingston is constantly producing the maximum amount of water.
“We really want to try to establish a purchasing mechanism through New Jersey American Water where we’re keeping our peak days down,” said Deputy Mayor Sean Klein. “That’s why it’s a huge economic issue.”
The ordinance will be discussed once more in a public conference meeting on April 4 and will be considered and potentially voted on during a public hearing at Town Hall on April 25.