Watering limits won’t lead to a flood of fines

Posted Friday, Jun. 07, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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A closer look Stage 1 watering restrictions took effect Monday for most Tarrant County cities. Who’s affected? The Tarrant Regional Water District’s main customers are Fort Worth, Arlington, Mansfield and the Trinity River Authority, which then sell water to other cities. Wholesale customers include Aledo, Bethesda Water Supply Corp., Bedford, Burleson, Colleyville, Crowley, Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, Dalworthington Gardens, Edgecliff Village, Euless, Everman, Forest Hill, Grand Prairie, Grapevine, Haltom City, Haslet, Hurst, Keller, Kennedale, Lake Worth, Northlake, North Richland Hills, Richland Hills, Roanoke, Saginaw, Southlake, the Trophy Club Municipal Utility District, Westlake, Westover Hills, Westworth Village and White Settlement. What are the limits? Residential customers whose addresses end in odd numbers (1, 3, 5, 7 and 9) are allowed to water lawns and landscaping with sprinklers on Sundays and Thursdays. Addresses ending in even numbers (2, 4, 6, 8 and 0) may water only on Saturdays and Wednesdays. Nonresidential customers, including apartments, businesses, parks and common areas, may water only on Tuesdays and Fridays. One exception is Colleyville, where twice-a-week watering is set by geographic areas rather than address numbers. Colleyville has a map of the watering zones on its website. Watering is still prohibited between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. How can I learn more? Residents can find out more and get conservation tips at savenorthtexaswater.com. Sources: Tarrant Regional Water District, Fort Worth Water Department

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Cities across Tarrant County are reminding residents and businesses to check their calendars before turning on their lawn sprinklers.

The restrictions may have surprised some, since the cities that get their water from the Tarrant Regional Water District didn’t have time to mail warnings before the limits were imposed.

The district announced the restrictions May 21.

City officials, who immediately posted the rules on websites and social media pages, say they will focus on education rather than enforcement during the initial weeks. The limits will remain in effect until the water district’s supply is comfortably above 75 percent capacity.

“It’s all of our water. We all have to pitch in and be responsible,” said Dustan Compton, Arlington’s water conservation coordinator.

He said the goal of these minimal restrictions is to prevent an even greater water shortage for the district and even harsher restrictions for customers.

Twice-a-week watering took effect Monday for almost all of the county.

The district, which provides raw water to 98 percent of Tarrant County, implemented Stage 1 restrictions because its water capacity has dropped to 75 percent in drought conditions.

In most cities, residential customers whose addresses end in even numbers can water their lawns and landscapes with sprinklers only on Saturdays and Wednesdays.

At odd-numbered addresses, it’s Sundays and Thursdays.

Commercial customers, such as apartments, businesses, parks and common areas, may water only on Tuesdays and Fridays.

Most residents will find schedules in this month’s water bill or on their city’s website.

Friendly reminders

Enforcement has varied widely, with some cities issuing only a few citations and others handing out hundreds.

In Arlington, customers receive two warnings before they are subject to a Class C misdemeanor citation with a $300 fine. Thanks to prompt compliance from water customers, the city issued only four citations during last year’s restrictions, officials said.

Residential landscape watering accounts for an estimated 40 percent of usage in Arlington.

Last summer, Arlington customers used 13.7 billion gallons of water, down from 16.2 billion the summer before.

Residents are encouraged to talk with their neighbors if they spot violations, but they can also make a report on Arlington’s website or call the Action Center hotline at 817-459-6777.

Fort Worth has a broad range of possible enforcement, said Micah Reed, the city’s conservation program manager.

“First, when we see a violation, we send them a friendly reminder,” Reed said. “If we actually see [the violation] during the day, we stop and talk to them and log it into the computer system as a friendly reminder.”

The violator has seven days to “correct the issue,” he said. Second time around, the city sends a notice of violation.

Then the city can lock the violator’s irrigation system. Unlock fees start at $25 and go to $50 and $75 for each violation.

Finally, “we have an option for a citation,” Reed said. “We could write a ticket for up to $2,000 per day.”

But situations don’t escalate like that, Reed said.

“The last time we had water restrictions, the overwhelming majority of them were resolved with just that first letter.

“We had a handful that went to notice of violation, but none of them went beyond that.”

The city had 4,800 violations during that period, he said.

The water department has a small number of staff who drive the city, checking for compliance, said Mary Gugliuzza, Water Department spokeswoman.

But all of the department’s field workers have compliance forms and can fill them out and turn in violations that they see.

“So we’re not limited to the few folks dedicated to enforcement,” Gugliuzza said.

Showers or flowers

Mansfield doesn’t intend to enforce the watering restrictions this month so customers can have time to learn the schedule, Utilities Director Joe Smolinski said.

“We favor education over enforcement. That is always our first priority,” Smolinski said.

“When somebody is watering on a day that is not assigned to them, or during a time they are not supposed to water, we’ve found that they are unaware of the schedule or they have lost power and their sprinkler system controller has reset.”

Mansfield also issues warnings before charging customers a $40 administrative fee on their water bill for ignoring the restrictions.

Only one person has been billed for such a violation in the past four years, Smolinski said.

“We hope they get the message that we do have a water crisis right now. We want to make sure it’s not a choice between showers and flowers,” he said. “We are trying to make sure we have enough water for everyone’s needs.”

Mansfield also has licensed irrigators who will help customers program their sprinkler systems to the proper dates and time for free, he said.

Colleyville follows a different twice-a-week watering schedule based on geographic areas rather than addresses.

Colleyville public works employees can issue only warnings while code enforcement and police officers can issue citations for witnessed violations.

The city issued 16 citations during the last period of Stage 1 watering restrictions: August 2011 to April 2012.

Southlake citations

Southlake receives calls and emails about possible violations, and officials say they always follow up.

The city has three code enforcement officers who respond to the complaints and patrol. And officers from the building inspection, police and fire departments are trained to look for violations.

Since 2011, Southlake has issued 396 citations.

Most of those, 313, were issued for watering on a restricted day.

The city has also issued 16 citations for watering between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., which is prohibited year-round, and 67 citations for water waste.

Fines for those violations are $352.

Kent Conkle, utility manager for Grapevine, said the city’s first response will be to educate the public through door hangers and other methods.

When the city receives complaints, the information will be verified and included on a spreadsheet.

Repeat offenders will be referred to code enforcement.

“We will play it by ear while citizens are being educated,” Conkle said.

Staff writers Dustin Dangli, Scott Nishimura and Marty Sabota contributed to this report, which includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

Susan Schrock, 817-390-7639 Twitter: @susanschrock

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