LIVINGSTON, NJ — An ordinance regulating water usage in Livingston by purchasing from New Jersey American Water and opting to move forward with a new odd/even-day yard-watering strategy was agreed upon at Monday night's Livingston Township Council meeting. The watering schedule will be introduced during the public meeting on Feb. 22 and potentially adopted by March 15 if the council decides to go forward.
According to Township Manager Michele Meade, the township recently accepted a memorandum of agreement with the Department of Environmental Protection, which urges Livingston and surrounding towns to use less water. By adopting this ordinance, which would allow Livingston residents two days per week to water, including one weekend day, Meade said the township will ultimately save money by purchasing less water, especially in the summer months.
“Ultimately, this is going to help the township to spend less on water so that we’re keeping our rates more stable,” said Meade. “We have huge water usages in the summer, that’s the biggest reason that we have to purchase outside water.”
Councilmembers were on board with this option, but proposed concerns about how to educate residents on the change and how enforce the new regulation. According to Meade, once the ordinance is adopted, she and the Livingston Water Department staff plan to distribute educational information to residents sooner rather than later.
Ultimately, Meade said, the goal is to let people know as much as possible as quickly as possible so that compliance will follow shortly after. In fact, Meade said the subject is crucial enough that the best method might be to distribute a direct-mail postcard to all Livingston residences linking homeowners to the details on the town website.
As for violations, Meade said the goal is not to penalize, but to ensure that residents understand and accept the change. In order to ensure that residents know as much about it as possible, some ideas include publicizing it on social media and posters throughout town and likely having educational door hangers or something similar on hand to distribute to early violators, rather than summonses.
One of the goals in deciding on which option to adopt for the new water-conservation ordinance was to make sure the ordinance would be easy to enforce, which is a concern for many of the council members. Councilman Ed Meinhardt said that next to educating residents, the priority would be to get the local police on board so that they know which homes will be affected.
Moving forward, the council will decide on a course of action that will determine when warnings end and tickets begin.
“We’re not going to just start writing tickets to everybody, that’s not what we intend to do,” said Meade. “We’re not going to issue a summons for the first couple of violations, but I think most people are going to get on board and do it. We want this to work and we want people to know about it. The goal is compliance.”
Meinhardt also requested a monthly report once the ordinance is adopted in March so that the council can determine the success of the new rules. If needed, the council will revisit the ordinance before the start of the summer. The council decided that it would consistently update the community with how the ordinance has been progressing throughout the spring in case changes need to be made before the summer.
“Just changing the rule gives us a lot of the benefits that we’re trying to get to,” said Deputy Mayor Shawn Klein, who said that if enforcement fails, the worst-case scenario is that the council will have to try something different. “Just putting a rule in effect, at least from what people tell us in other towns, has changed the way most people consume their water.”
Livingston resident Alan Karpas, speaking on behalf of the Livingston Vision 20/20 Committee, said that responses to the committee’s 2015 township questionnaire suggest that complying with the new ordinance shouldn’t be too difficult for most residents. According to Karpas, when asked how frequently they water their lawns, 48 percent of responders said, “When needed,” meaning infrequently or less than twice a week.
In the “comments” section of the questionnaire, many even said they don’t water at all. Residents interested in asking questions or commenting on the situation are invited to the public township council meeting on Feb. 22, where the full ordinance will be introduced.