New Jersey, New York City declare 'war' on drought

New York City and the State of New Jersey have declared "war" on their water shortages. With supplies at record lows in parts of New Jersey -- some communities in densely populated Bergen County are down to a 25- day supply -- and widespread disobedience to newly imposed water restrictions in both New Jersey and New York , officials are stepping up their water conservation drives.

As they emerge from sometimes marathon drought meetings here and in Trenton, N.J., armed with new proposals for fines, emergency manpower increases, and repeated appeals to the public at large, their aim is the same: both speedy and long-range conservation, based largely on a vastly increased awareness of the enormity of the problem.

Recent heavy rains would not significantly ease the drought problem, said New Jersey Gov. Brenden Byrne and spokesmen for New York City Mayor Edward I. Koch.

To bring water levels merely up to "acceptable levels" in the Garden State, where on Feb. 7 Governor Byrne extended mandatory water rationing from 114 to 202 communities, "we're talking about getting 25 to 30 inches above the normal rainfall," says Richard Vespucci, the governor's drought troubleshooter.

New York City's upstate reservoirs stood at 31.7 percent of capacity on Feb. 10 -- up only a tiny fraction of 1 percent from the previous day despite some steady progress in terms of conservation since the mayor declared the water emergency Jan. 18.

As officials took new steps to ensure greater conservation they were in agreement that past efforts had left a lot to be desired.

"Governor Byrne and our state department of environmental conservation have been very upset over the lack of compliance" with conservation madates, Mr. Vespucci declared.

But officials are banking on these and other measures:

* New York City's environmental protection administration has been authorized to hire 25 new water conservation inspectors and Mayor Koch has ordered police, firemen, health department inspectors, and other municipal officials to cite violators of mandatory conservation measures.

* Fines for violations such as opening fire hydrants or washing cars at home will be increased. The fine now for the first offense of opening a fire hydrant is from $50 to $150. For the third offense, the fine is from $200 to $2,000.

* New Jersey officials have two new weapons against water wasters. One provides surcharges for water use in excess of 50 gallons per day per person in single-family homes in the 202 communities where there is mandatory water rationing. The other penalizes nonessential water use in 200 designated communities by fines of up to $175 or up to one year in jail. This includes watering shrubs or cars.

* New Jersey landlords will now be allowed to assess surcharges on tenants who use more than the allotted amount of water. "It's really hard to get people to think in terms of conservation," says Mr. Vespucci. "But perhaps now because they will feel it in their pocketbooks, there will be some motivation for cutbacks."

* After ordering private businesses to curb water use by 15 percent, New York City officials imposed a 20 percent cut on all city agencies. Although the specific plans for accomplishing this are not yet ready, agencies have begun posting water conservation signs in corridors and offices. In addition, all city stationery must now either be printed or stamped with a conservation notice.

While all these measures are being implemented to reduce the immediate drain on the water supply, there is also a lot of concern about supplies in the summer.

"If we use as much water this summer as we did last summer, we will have a serious, serious problem in the fall," contends Joseph Panasci of New York City's Environmental Protection Department. Just how serious? The city might run out of water almost entirely, he warned.

In the meantime, New York City and New Jersey are exploring long-range options, aside from conservation, for expanding their water supply base.

The NEw Jersey Legislature has reallocated for new water pipelines nearly $26 million orginally earmarked for sewers. One of these proposed pipelines would actually traverse the George Washington Bridge. This water would come from three upstate New York lakes that empty into the Delawa re.

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