EARLY Early City Council members waded Tuesday into the water issues facing the community and discussed a number of options.

Those options included using well water to supplement Lake Brownwood, building a waste water treatment plant and selling that water for irrigation and stepping up enforcement and penalties for residents who ignore existing water restrictions.

Council members met in a workshop-only session that did not give them the authority to take any action. Council members and City Administrator Ken Thomas agreed, however, that it's time to fashion an ordinance likely in time for Tuesday's regularly scheduled council meeting that increases penalties and reconnect fees for water violators.

Like other users of Lake Brownwood water, Early is preparing for Stage 4 restrictions which are likely to be implemented soon based on the Brown County Water Improvement District's Drought Contingency Plan. While Stage 4 initially had specified there would be no outside watering allowed, officials with the water district and Brown County's lake water users have have acknowledged that's too drastic. What is agreed is that Stage 4 will ask water users to reduce their water use by 50 percent based on a five-year average, and cities are being asked to develop their own strategies for meeting that goal.

"We all hope it's going to rain tomorrow. We hope the lake's going to fill back up," Thomas said at Tuesday's workshop.

Thomas and council members acknowledged that it will be a long time before that happens.

"Our weather's changed," council member Benny Allcorn said, noting that drought-like conditions will be seen "more and more."

"I don't fall in with this man-made business but (the climate) will change," council member B.J. McCullough said. "It has changed through history. It's just one of those things. Things change. We have to adapt."

When Early was founded in 1951 with 600 people, the city used well water, Thomas said. The city's population grew rapidly and well water could not meet the city's needs, so the city began buying raw water from the water improvement district and treating it, Thomas said.

An option could be to begin pumping water from the well on Bluebonnet the city had once relied on and possible drill a couple of more wells, Thomas said. That would also involve laying pipeline to the city's water treatment plant.

While there are currently no fines in place for those who violate Stage 3 water restrictions, service can be shut off to residents who receive third notices of violations, with a $25 reconnect fee. It was suggested at Tuesday's workshop that a new ordinance be crafted that specifies a $250 fine for a first violation and $500 fine for additional violations. It was also suggested that the reconnect fee could be increased fourfold for someone whose water already been reconnected within the past 30 days.

"Currently we sell water to Zephyr, so Early will have to enforce Zephyr," Thomas said.

Thomas noted that "a lot of people are trying to conserve, a lot of people are not. We've had a few that just defy."

City Attorney Perry Sims said the issue is "to make sure we set the fee schedule for violators and enforce it. It won't be popular with citizens who get caught."

Thomas said another options is for city city to build a waste water treatment plant and sell water for irrigation, but would not be treated for use as drinking water, Thomas said.

The city needs to be looking to future water needs, and working toward the options will put the city "in a much better spot to help the citizens of Early," Sims said.