Fort Worth council OKs permanent watering restrictions

Posted Wednesday, Apr. 09, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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The Fort Worth City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to make two-day-a-week landscape watering and other watering restrictions permanent.

Last week, the council voted 5-4 to delay voting on the watering restrictions after residents raised objections. The council members said they wanted to consider all conservation options.

“None of us at this table disagree with water conservation,” said Mayor Pro Tem W.B. “Zim” Zimmerman. The delay was needed to allow “our citizens to get a little more knowledge of what we are trying to do and why we are trying to do it.”

Tuesday’s vote was 7-0, with Mayor Betsy Price and Councilman Danny Scarth absent.

The Arlington City Council is also considering measures designed to give officials the ability to quickly sanction those who break the rules. But they were not ready to make the city’s similar water restrictions permanent.

A Tarrant Regional Water District official encouraged the Fort Worth council to adopt the restrictions, saying mandated watering days are necessary to ensure the city will be competitive when seeking a state permit to develop future water sources. State law requires an effective conservation plan.

Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and Houston already “have a water conservation plan that is effective, is implemented and is stronger” than Fort Worth’s, said Linda Christie, community and government relations director in a presentation to council.

Under the conservation plan, addresses ending in an even number can water on Wednesdays and Saturdays, residential addresses ending in an odd number will water on Thursdays and Sundays. Non-residential locations such as apartment complexes, businesses and parks may water on Tuesdays and Fridays.

Blake Woodard, a Fort Worth resident, argued against the strict watering restrictions again at the council meeting, speaking about his plan that would allow residents to water two or fewer of the following days: Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Woodard also said he spoke with the Texas Water Development Board and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality about his plan, and they said his plan would not affect the city’s ability to permit new water sources.

That information could not be confirmed with either state agency Tuesday night.

That way, homeowners and businesses could water when their lawns need it most, take rainy days into account, and better fit watering into their own schedules, Woodard said.

Conservation in the midst of a drought

The region is experiencing one of its driest spells on record. Since Jan. 1, only 2.89 inches of rain have fallen at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, which is 6.02 inches below normal, making this the ninth-driest start to a year on record through Monday.

Last weekend’s rain did little to improve lake levels. The water district, which provides raw water to 98 percent of Tarrant County, is at 70 percent of capacity.

“I’m not seeing any decent upticks on the lake levels — none that supply water in the Trinity River basin,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Dan Shoemaker.

The next chance for rain arrives Sunday, but Shoemaker said it is too early to say if it will help with the drought.

“Right now, it looks kind of wet, but you can’t rely on it this far out,” Shoemaker said.

The new ordinance will impose a maximum fine of $2,000 for irrigating on an off-day or for watering between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. each day. Compliance would focus on education, and offer a “friendly reminder” first, which would be followed by a violation notice and then locking the irrigation system and administrative fees, city officials said.

Since June 2013, when the drought watering restrictions went into place, the city has sent out 6,131 notices for first offenses, 133 notices for second offenses, has had no system lockouts and has not issued any citations.

A person could also be fined for knowingly or recklessly causing a “substantial amount of water” to fall on areas other than the lawn, such as a street or sidewalk, or for watering during any form of precipitation and for having a broken or missing sprinkler head.

The ordinance would not apply to hand watering, drip irrigation or soaker hoses. It also has variances available for special circumstances, such as for establishment of new grass sod.

The watering restrictions are included in the city’s water conservation plan, which was also approved Tuesday along with the city’s drought contingency plan. Both had to receive council approval to be submitted to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Texas Water Development Board by May 1.

Arlington wants to address leaks quickly

In 2012, the Arlington council considered implementing permanent twice-a-week watering restrictions, but abandoned those plans after public backlash. The proposal has not come up since.

Instead of creating permanent outdoor watering restrictions, Buzz Pishkur, Arlington’s water utilities director, said the city is working to meet conservation goals through public education, improving operational efficiencies and holding customers responsible for stopping wasteful plumbing and pipe leaks in a more timely fashion.

“Water is a tangible asset,” Pishkur said. “All we are asking for is people to use it wisely and don’t waste it. We are not saying we don’t want people to use water. Water is a quality of life issue.”

Arlington is reviewing its Water Conservation and Drought Contingency plans, which were last updated in 2009 and 2008, respectively.

The city is considering two amendments designed to give it the ability to more quickly address violations during both normal conditions and during a drought and emergency situations, such as when a water main breaks or a problem occurs at a water treatment plant, Pishkur said.

Currently, customers who violate outdoor watering restrictions don’t have to worry about their water being shut off until receiving at least one written warning and three convictions. City officials would like to amend its plan to give customers 10 days after a written warning to correct a violation or face disconnection of their irrigation systems or water service.

The city will continue to be able to disconnect irrigation systems or shut off water service for any violations that create public safety concerns, he said.

Also, the city has no means of forcing a customer to address leaks or wasteful irrigation if the customer pays the water bill and those leaks don’t negatively affect another property or create a public safety concern. City officials want to be able to force customers to repair leaks in their irrigation systems and to stop overspraying onto sidewalks, driveways and streets.

If the problem creates water runoff of 150 feet or greater in those circumstances, the city would give the customer 30 days to mitigate it or face a loss of service.

“Sometimes, with a small leak, people will ignore it because it’s not a lot of money,” Pishkur said. “If they are paying their bill, we are really limited in our response to the concerns. Sometimes we need to be able to act a little more quickly.”

The Arlington council is set to vote on the proposed amendments on April 22.

Dallas has similar restrictions

The restrictions approved Tuesday are similar to a water conservation ordinance first approved by the Dallas City Council in 2001 and amended several times since.

Dallas made the twice-weekly watering restrictions permanent in 2012, said Carole Davis, water conservation division manager for Dallas.

“For the most part, residents have responded very well. We haven’t had really any major push-back to this,” Davis said in an earlier interview. “Folks are starting to see that their lawns will survive on the two-times weekly watering.”

Dallas residents can’t water between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. between April 1 and Oct. 31, must repair broken or missing sprinkler heads, can’t water during any form of precipitation and cannot allow a sprinkler system to water driveways, sidewalks or streets.

“It is important that we all work together as a region for water conservation,” Davis said. “It is an important issue.”

Staff writer Bill Hanna contributed to this report, which includes material from Star-Telegram archives.

Caty Hirst, 817-390-7984 Twitter: @catyhirst

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