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Drought continues to raise concerns about North Texas water supplies

Posted Thursday, Jul. 28, 2011  comments  Print Reprints
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An unusually hot summer, even by North Texas standards, is draining the area's water supplies faster than normal, prompting the likely implementation of stringent water restrictions across much of the region within weeks.

The Tarrant Regional Water District's supply has dropped to about 80 percent of capacity, spokesman Chad Lorance said Wednesday. Under the district's drought plan, when the water supply drops to 75 percent of capacity, communities must enforce the first stage of mandatory restrictions, which call for customers to water landscapes only twice a week.

"We've been falling at a rate of roughly 3 percent each month this summer," Lorance said. "By that measure, we should reach 75 percent and Stage One water restrictions around the 1st of September."

Most cities in Tarrant County buy water from the district, including Fort Worth, Arlington, North Richland Hills, Southlake, Colleyville, Keller and Mansfield.

The long string of triple-digit high temperatures has strained supplies and reduced water levels at area lakes.

Fort Worth, one of the system's primary customers, set an all-time water use record in June of just over 13 billion gallons. The city broke its previous one-day use record Monday, consuming 358.1 million gallons.

Weatherford will likely implement mandatory water restrictions next month, said James Hotopp, the city's water utilities director. Lake Weatherford is about 5.5 feet low but would be even lower if the city hadn't started pumping water from Benbrook Lake on June 16, he said. It's only the third time since 2002 that the city has taken advantage of the pipeline between the lakes.

Sansom Park water superintendent Dee Brewer noticed that water use from the city's eight wells has increased since May. From May to June, water use jumped by 4 million gallons, he said.

The water levels in the wells and storage tanks are still "safe," but on Tuesday, Mayor Jim Barnett ordered some mandatory water restrictions to take effect Aug. 3 to give the city time to notify residents. Residents can water their lawns only every five days, and people cannot wash their cars, sidewalks or driveways.

"We wanted to take a proactive rather than a reactive approach," Barnett said.

City Manager Karen Bolyard said Sansom Park is waiting until September to start water system construction projects because some existing wells will be out of service.

In River Oaks, which contracts with the Tarrant Regional Water District, some water restrictions began July 15 after an equipment failure at the treatment plant, City Administrator Marvin Gregory said.

The equipment was repaired, but the restrictions remain because of the drought, he said.

"A lot of people's yards are burning up right now. They are giving up," Gregory said. "We're not issuing citations right now because we want people to get on board."

Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, one of Tarrant County's largest water users, has been working on various projects to reduce its consumption. The airport is installing pipes to tap into a reclaimed water system connected to Fort Worth, Arlington and Euless, spokesman David Magaña said.

Aman Batheja, 817-390-7695; Elizabeth Campbell, 817-390-7696

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