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Select Board Considers Increasing Penalties for Violating Watering Ban as Drought Conditions Worsen

The Burlington Select Board is taking a look at strengthening the penalties for violation of the town’s outdoor watering ban as much of the region continues to deal with very dry conditions.

As reported by BNEWS, on August 9 the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs and the Drought Management Task Force declared that the Central and Northeast sections of the state are now in a Level-3 Critical Drought, up from a Level 2-Significant Drought. In later days the Level-3 Drought status was updated to include all but the western region of the state, parts of Cape Cod and the islands.

Last Monday the Select Board received an update on the situation in Burlington from DPW Director John Sanchez, who said the town needed to tweak the current ban on all automatic watering systems to include a restriction on watering lawns by hand. He said the watering of gardens, plants and flowers is allowed as long as such activity is restricted to before 9 a.m. and after 5 p.m.

Further, Sanchez said that while the town does normally allow exemptions for new lawns starting in September, his department is asking that residents not tear up existing lawns this year. The only exemptions, he explained, will be for new construction as not seeding lawns in those cases can lead to other types of runoff that are detrimental to the environment. However, even in cases of new construction a special exemption is needed to be granted formally by the town.

Though Sanchez said most residents and businesses are complying with the watering ban, there have been some serial offenders. He said to some the initial fee of $50 and subsequent fees of $100 is worth it to some people to continue watering despite the ban. Members of the board said they have heard the same thing.

“I know people who water three times a week, pay $300 and at the end of year it’s still cheaper than putting in a new lawn,” member Joe Morandi said.

To help combat violations members asked if it was possible to increase the fines for watering. Town Administrator Paul Sagarino said that was likely a viable option but said his office should check with Town Counsel to get the details before any change is made. The board said they would take the issue up at a later meeting.

Still, members tried to stress the importance of complying with the watering ban since failure to do so could have a detrimental impact on the town water supply, which is already at a low point.

“I don’t think people understand the severity of the drought,” Morandi said. “We are concerned with the water pressure; especially if we need to put out a fire. I don’t think people realize how urgent it is. It’s just grass, it will come back.”