Let residents choose watering days

Posted Saturday, Apr. 05, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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Progress requires innovation, and innovation requires vision, boldness, risk — and often a healthy debate.

In its April 3 editorial, the Star-Telegram tried to stifle that debate by complaining about “weak-kneed” Fort Worth City Council members and saying their resolve on water has weakened.

This insult was due to the City Council’s decision to wait just one week to consider an innovative proposal that would make one change to the city’s current drought plan.

This proposal, the Woodard Plan, would give residents a greater role in active conservation, provide flexibility for today’s 24/7 lifestyles, minimize the opportunity for cheating and give Mayor Betsy Price a citizen-friendly way to implement her goal of year-round water restrictions.

The Woodard Plan is anything but “structureless,” as the editorial branded it, but follows the structure of the current drought and conservation plans. Here is how it works:

• The current drought plan limits outdoor watering during Stage 1 restrictions to Tuesdays and Fridays for businesses, Wednesdays and Saturdays for even-numbered residences and Thursdays and Sundays for odd-numbered residences. Monday is the water Sabbath, when no one waters.

• The Woodard Plan adopts all of the provisions of the current drought plan and even the mayor’s proposed changes to Sec. 35-151 (“Lawn and Landscape Irrigation Restrictions”) that would make restrictions year-round. It has one change: Residents could water two or fewer of these days: Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Could people cheat? They could, just as they break the current rules. But who is going to water their yard both Wednesday and Thursday or both Saturday and Sunday, given the price of water?

The Woodard Plan would be the rule year-round, so the mayor gets her year-round restrictions, but residents get some flexibility, so that they can use their conservation skills to save even more water. It’s a radical idea: A little less government equals more conservation.

There are two myths about water conservation in Fort Worth:

The first is that citizens support designated watering days. No one knows, because no one has asked. None of the Water Department’s or the Tarrant Regional Water District’s surveys asked residents whether they support designated watering days. Instead, the surveys merely asked whether residents support twice-a-week watering restrictions.

That’s a huge difference, and the agencies know it. Put me at the top of supporters of twice-a-week watering, yet I oppose designated days.

The agencies worded their questions to avoid mentioning designated days, as one city employee told me, because they felt that mentioning designated days would “lead” residents to overwhelmingly state they would prefer flexibility. Don’t like the answer? Then don’t ask the question.

The second myth is that last summer’s reduced water consumption is proof that designated days are working. That is a non sequitur.

Last summer’s reduced consumption was due in part to three things: A decent amount of rain scattered evenly throughout the summer, increased water rates that make watering your yard an expensive act, and a citizenry that has gotten the conservation message loud and clear.

The TRWD and the Water Department have done an outstanding job communicating the need for conservation.

Designated watering days are not a “proven water conservation plan,” as the Star-Telegram editorial declared. The summers of 2011, 2012 and 2013 provide a very ambiguous assessment of designated days.

There is plenty of room to compromise in implementing the Woodard Plan. But if we are going to ask our citizens to sacrifice even when the lakes are overflowing, shouldn’t we show them the tiniest bit of trust and give them a small role in conservation?

Blake Woodard is a Fort Worth resident who has followed water issues closely for the past two years. blake@woodardcompanies.com

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