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Water violations stack up for boro property owners

As the drought emergency continues despite recent rainfall, over 450 conservation violations have been issued to Queens property owners, more than any other borough, the city’s Department of Environmental Protection said.

The violations, issued in the form of stiff fines for not conserving water, are part of the stage-one drought emergency level the city entered almost two months ago. The emergency regulations require reducing water consumption, posting “Save Water” signs, and fixing even the smallest leaks, and violations incur fines between $100 and $750, said Natalie Millner, a spokeswoman for the DEP.

Despite recent downpours, reservoir levels still are down by 21 percent, said Geoffrey Ryan, spokesman for the city’s DEP. Upstate reservoirs are at about 79 percent of capacity. thanks to spring rains, but the levels should be near 100 percent by June 1, he said. The beginning of the month and the summer marks the start of the water year, when consumption rises and the watershed declines.

“The problem is it starts going downhill again in June,” Ryan said of the reservoir levels. “People start to use more water, and plants and trees start actively absorbing more of the watershed.”

To help Mother Nature, the city entered into the stage-one drought emergency level March 26. At that time the reservoirs were at 50 percent when they should have been closer to 90 percent, according to the DEP.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s declaration came with regulations aimed at curbing water consumption. In a stage-one emergency, using public water to wash cars, sidewalks or driveways, water lawns, or in ornamental fountains is prohibited. The violations average a $250 fine, which could increase to $550 should the city go to stage two or three.

Since the stage-one emergency went into effect April 1, DEP inspectors have issued 464 violations in Queens, Millner said. About 175 of those violations are a failure to post “Save Water” signs, which carries a $100 fine, she said. Signs must be posted in all buildings except residential dwellings with fewer than five units.

More than 80 violations were issued for leaks at residential and commercial sites in the borough, and another 60 for washing cars or operating fountains, Millner said. These violations carry a $250 fine, according to the DEP.

The highest fine at this level, $750, is levied for illegal use of fire hydrants, and 15 of these violations have been issued in Queens, Millner said. About 134 other violations were issued for a variety of offenses such as failure to reduce water consumption, serving water at restaurants without customer requests, and other misuses of public water, she said.

Although the city has been hit by at least two rainstorms a week in the past month, the rain levels have been about normal since March, with slightly more rain that month and slightly less in April, Ryan said.

“It keeps us from going to stage two, but it doesn’t get us out of the drought,” he said. “We need a lot better than normal for that.”

The reservoir levels constantly are monitored, and the rain has brought a gradual increase, Ryan said. Although he does not expect the city to go to a stage-two emergency within the next few weeks, that may change as the weather heats up, he said. Under stage two, he said, the conservation regulations are stricter and the violation fines are higher.

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com, or by phone at 229-0300, Ext. 138.

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