State of Drought
Jul 02, 2012 03:20PM
● By tina
A Texas-sized problem
Texas is certainly no stranger to drought. Despite recent memory the decade of dryness ending in 1957 is still considered Texas’ “drought of record.” From the late 1940s to the end of the 50s the Lone Star state experienced ten years of drought, the worst in its recorded history. Total annual rainfall was off by more than 40 percent and in 1952; the city of Lubbock did not record even a drop of rain. Lake Dallas fell to a mere 11 percent of capacity and in the end all but ten of the states’ 254 counties were declared “federal disaster areas.”
The early devastation to the state economy and the land itself brought legislatures together with the goal to design plans to help meet the need for water during times of drought. In a 1961 plan for meeting state water requirements through 1980, future-thinking legislators said, “If Texans cannot change the weather, they can at least, through sound, farsighted planning, conserve and develop water resources to supply their needs.”
It is true- we Texans cannot change the weather as evidenced by last year’s record-breaking 71 consecutive days above 100-degree temperatures. According to Todd Staples, Texas’ Commissioner of Agriculture the nearly 8 billion dollars in agricultural losses due to last year’s drought is a new record for the Lone Star State. As he put it, “Unfortunately, we like to set new records but this is not the direction we want to go.”
Fortunately a “wet winter” improved lake and reservoir levels for parts of the state, but more than 90 percent are still suffering widespread drought. Closer to home, after more than 11 months, the City of Southlake officially lifted the Stage 1 water restrictions on May 4th 2012. The Water for Texas 2012 state plan freely admits, “Water – more than any other national resource – challenges the state’s future.” What remains to be seen is how deep, or shallow, our water concerns will continue to be right here in Southlake.
Where our water really comes from
The dryer it gets, the more times the question, “ Why can’t Southlake just get more water from Lake Grapevine?” is asked. Good idea in theory but most may not be aware that regardless of proximity, our city doesn’t purchase water from the very lake from which we are due South. The water rights to Lake Grapevine were established during its initial construction in the 1940s and primarily belong to the individual municipalities of Highland Park and University Park.
With the need to look elsewhere, Southlake found its supply through a wholesale water purchase contract with the City of Fort Worth. One of the largest raw water suppliers in the state of Texas, the Tarrant Regional Water District (TRWD), owns and operates the major reservoirs and pipelines that bring raw water to Fort Worth’s Rolling Hills Treatment Plant and then distributes the end product. Lake Bridgeport, Eagle Mountain Lake, and the Cedar Creek and Richland-Chambers reservoirs keep our 14.5 million gallons of elevated and ground water storage tanks flowing.
When restrictions were lifted in May, Fort Worth Water Department spokesperson Mary Gugliuzza emphasized, “It is not a matter of if, but when, we return to Stage 1. It may be one year, it may be four years.” Therefore it is the responsibility of conscientious citizens and city administrators to better plan for and control available water supplies.
There are 16 regional water planning groups, each group consisting of about 20 members representing a variety of interests, as required by state statute, including agriculture, industry, public, environment, municipalities, business, waters districts, river authorities, water utilities, counties, and power generation.
These planning groups operate in five-year cycles evaluating population projections, water demand projects, and existing water supplies then send their adopted plans to the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB), the state’s water supply financing agency, to receive approval. From all of the regional plans the TWDB compiles the state plan, which helps guide state water policy. The TWDB then makes policy recommendations to the Texas legislature and the entire process is open to the public giving residents numerous opportunities to weigh in with their input.
Supply and Demand
The current State Water Plan shows a significant increase in population over the next fifty years, more that 82 percent, taking the current number of Texans from 25.4 million to 46.3 million by 2060. As a result a 22 percent increased demand for water is expected over the same fifty-year period an amount insufficient to fulfill long-term water needs. However, the same report does references plans in place from regional water planning groups for projects designed to meet needs for additional water in Texas even during drought. As always, development comes with a cost and the 2012 price tag to design, construct and implement recommended water management strategies could be in excess of 53 billion dollars.
In our own corner of Texas, The City of Southlake website explains that our water facilities exceed the minimum State standards for pumping and storage capacity based on the current population of nearly 27,000. Housing density restrictions has Southlake City government forecasting a population increase of a more modest 20-30 percent with an estimated 2050 population of close to 34,000. Current statistics put our water consumption at an average of nearly 280 gallons per capita per day (GCPD). And when summer temperatures escalate so too does our consumption- to a gushing 513 GCPD – as much as four times non-summer volumes. The main factor in such increases- lawn irrigation, which accounts for as much as 60% of increased season summer volumes. What results is a near constant stage 1 status of water restrictions.
In addition to restricting water consumption our city is also in the process to ensure adequate water supplies well into the future with the help of city ordinances.
Southlake City Ordinance No. 895-B
In 2008, City Ordinance No. 895-B was signed amending current ordinances addressing water conservation measurements enabling our city to better conserve our current water sources. The current service area for Southlake residents according to this ordinance is 22 square miles and the population at that time was shown as 27,768. Projected population from the Southlake 2025 plan indicates a steady increase over the next few decades.
When Ordinance 895-B was enacted in 2008 the average consumption was 163 GCPD. Southlake’s Water Conservation Plan has set a goal to reduce consumption to 190 GPCD by 2015 and 180 GPCD by the year 2020. Methods to realize this goal discussed in the City of Southlake Water System Analysis 2012 include more information and education for residents and businesses, which include; the use of low water use fixtures/landscaping, alternative water supplies, modified rate schedules and irrigation audits.
A single program discussed in the analysis that would have a direct result on reducing per capita usage is alternative water supply for irrigation. Programs have been developed throughout the U.S. that provide reusable water back to customers by utilizing treated wastewater that has been filtered and disinfected to a level acceptable only for irrigation. This could be cost prohibitive due to the pumping and distribution systems that would need to be put in place for already existing customers. Adding this capability during infrastructure building has been effective. Our water supplies are limited and it is up to each of us to do our part to be responsible stewards of our environment.
Southlake City Ordinance No. 662-D
A drought contingency ordinance was enacted in April of 2009 to amend prior ordinances establishing criteria for drought stages and emergency water management. In this ordinance the City recognizes, “The natural limitations due to drought conditions and other acts of God cannot guarantee an uninterrupted water supply for all purposes.”
The emergency response plan within Ordinance 662-D addresses the external conditions that may create a need to restrict water usage in Southlake for the health, safety, and welfare of everyone, including citizens and those who work here or come to enjoy our City. The Southlake Director of Public Works, (Robert Price) the City of Fort Worth, or the TRWD may activate any of the three stages of restrictions if and when the need arises. The conditions responsible for Stage 1 Water Watch like those experienced last year include; a system failure of pumping supply or distribution lines, a power failure, or issues at storage facilities.
The water level in the City’s three 1.5 million gallon elevated tanks of the low pressure plane and the single elevated tank in the high pressure plane each play a significant part in a Stage 1 declaration. A declaration is made if the levels fall below 18 feet (measured from the bottom of the tank bowls) and continue below this level for 3 consecutive days.
Stage 2 drought declaration of “Water Warning” not only continues all the actions under Stage 1 but causes the City to reduce its use further with conservation measures like prohibiting the washing of city vehicles, operation of City ornamental fountains, and further reduction of landscape watering (except for what is necessary to prevent damage to foundations, preserve new plantings, rare plantings and keep golf greens alive).
Should a Stage 3 “Emergency Water Use Management” become necessary all actions covered under Stage 1 and 2 will continue and further steps will be taken like implementing any viable alternative supply strategies, prohibiting the permitting of new swimming pools, ornamental ponds and fountain constructions. However, pools already permitted and under construction may be completed and filled with water.
Our City is actively working on making sure Southlake will always have a clean, adequate supply of the precious resource of water. Robert Price has been attending meetings throughout the area giving the presentation “Got Water?” to both inform and advise citizens and businesses about this ongoing struggle with Mother Nature. To some it may be surprising to learn that our water usage is so much greater in the summer and that much of those increases are irrigation related. Throughout his presentation Price brings the statewide problem of drought home and stresses the importance of our adherence to watering restrictions. In “Got Water?” Price also talks about the ways the City offers to help us improve our conservation efforts as well.
We all know that irrigation systems need regular maintenance and repairs to remain efficient and this is the perfect opportunity for you to have your system checked out. Because Southlake pays a peak water charge to our supplier and that charge, which is measured each summer, has been averaging $1.6 million dollars- the charge amounts to roughly 25% of our annual water budget.
It goes without saying, control irrigation and you can affect our water usage immensely. Therefore the City of Southlake offers a free program in the hopes of doing just that. The City’s Water Irrigation Systems Evaluation or “W.I.S.E. Guys” program, operated through a partnership with Vepo, LLC, a water conservation company is designed to increase the efficiency of Southlake’s residential irrigation systems. Upon request the program’s licensed irrigators will evaluate the efficiency of your home’s irrigation systems, at no cost. If your evaluation indicates the need for repairs and those repairs are successfully made, you may qualify for a $200 incentive credit on your water bill.
It’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when we will face a time of severe drought again. As many Texans are still struggling to recover in the current state of drought, Southlake still teeters on the edge. We may not be able to control the ever-changing Texas weather but with the proper plans in place and smart water consumption we do have the ability to curb our growing water demands.
City of Southlake Lawn Watering Tips:
• To avoid excess evaporation, water your lawn and landscaping early in the morning before 10 AM, or in the early evening after 6 PM.
• Regularly inspect your irrigation system, and fix or replace any broken or missing sprinkler heads.
• Do not water sidewalks, driveways or any pavement.
• Do not run sprinklers when it is windy.
• Water your lawn deeply and less often to establish deep roots. 1-inch of water every five to seven days will encourage deep roots and a healthier lawn.
• Add a 3 to 4 inch layer of organic mulch to your landscaping beds to retain moisture and inhibit weed growth.
• Do not mow your lawn too short during very hot months. Slightly taller grass retains more moisture.
• Leave grass clippings on your lawn. These add nutrients to your lawn.