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North Texas cities improving water conservation efforts

Posted Tuesday, Mar. 09, 2010  comments  Print Reprints
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Comparing cities

How Arlington and Fort Worth stack up on a checklist of water-conservation measures, according to an analysis by the Sierra Club and the National Wildlife Federation. The full report is available at www.texaswatermatters.org.

Annual reduction: Both cities have relatively modest goals and won't reach the state-recommended goal of 140 gallons per customer per day within five years. Arlington residents use 161 gallons per day, and the city plans to decrease that to 153. Fort Worth uses 192 gallons per customer per day and plans to reduce that to 179.

Pricing: One way to reduce water consumption is to make it more expensive to use large amounts. Both cities earned a "moderate" rating. The cost per 1,000 gallons decreases slightly when customers increase their water use in Arlington, from $3.41 to $2.99 (based on an increase from 5,000 gallons to 25,000 gallons, without including wastewater charges). Fort Worth's cost increases a few cents over the same range, from $3.94 to $4.02. In Austin, by comparison, the cost more than doubles, from $2.91 to $6.21.

Toilet replacement: Another easy way to reduce water consumption is to replace old toilets, which use as much as four times more water than modern toilets (7 gallons per flush compared with 1.6). Arlington plans to replace 600 toilets this year; Fort Worth plans to replace 7,000. San Antonio plans to replace 20,000 toilets this year, and has replaced 120,000 over the last 15 years.

Conservation funding: $1.6 million in Fort Worth, compared with $6.8 million in Austin, which has fewer water customers.

Outdoor watering ordinance: Fort Worth and Arlington have year-round bans on wasteful water use, such as watering lawns between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Some cities automatically go to weekly watering schedules in the summer. Fort Worth and Arlington do that only during emergencies.

Plumbing retrofit programs: Both cities have programs to help retrofit old plumbing fixtures in homes and businesses.

Education programs: Arlington and Fort Worth offer water conservation programs in schools and have Web sites with educational materials.

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Fort Worth, Dallas and Arlington are making strides in conserving water, but they could still do a lot more, according to two environmental groups.

North Texas used more water per capita than other areas of the state and did little to conserve water until 2007. That's when the Legislature began requiring cities to make detailed plans for water conservation, including setting goals for reducing their per-capita consumption.

"Cities like Dallas and Fort Worth are beginning to go in the right direction," said Ken Kramer, state director of the Sierra Club.

The Sierra Club and National Wildlife Federation analyzed the water conservation plans for 19 Texas cities and compared several areas: water use per capita and goals for reducing it; how strongly their water rates encouraged conservation; how many out-of-date toilets the cities replaced; how much they spent on conservation programs; their watering and irrigation ordinances; and their educational programs.

Fort Worth and Arlington lag behind places like San Antonio and El Paso, which have led the state in conservation for years. But they're ahead of places like Tyler and Brownsville, which lack even basics like multi-tiered water rates.

"The extent of those programs does vary greatly," said Myron Hess, manager of Texas water programs at the wildlife federation.

Texas' population is expected to double within a few decades, but it's becoming more expensive to find new water supply sources, so conservation is a key component of the state's water plan. If the cities reduce their water consumption enough, they can avoid expensive new water projects like lakes and pipelines.

"The best and cheapest source of water is the one that's already on tap," Kramer said.

The report didn't analyze the cities' leak-detection programs, but Kramer said those play a major role. Fort Worth lost 14.5 percent of its water either to leaks or defective meters in 2008. San Antonio began aggressively fixing leaks a couple of years ago, and "it had a dramatic effect," Kramer said.

Mary Gugliuzza, a spokeswoman for the Fort Worth Water Department, said the city plans to strengthen its conservation programs over the next few years. She cautioned that it could be a while before some programs show results, particularly the water-conservation ordinance. "Those really require changes in behavior," she said.

She said the city agrees with the thrust of the study, that it's cheaper to save water than to find new sources.

"In the end, there still is a finite amount of water out there," Gugliuzza said.

The cities are expected to report to the Texas Water Development Board in May.

MIKE LEE, 817-390-7539

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