FORT WORTH — The drought could get worse before it gets better, driving up the cost of water and contributing to higher rates planned in Fort Worth for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, according to briefings Tuesday at the City Council.Dan Buhman, assistant general manager of the Tarrant Regional Water District, said meteorologists are “predicting the drought will persist, or perhaps intensify.” In a worst-case scenario presented to council members, Buham said the water district could move to Stage 2 water restrictions in about October. The district’s reservoir storage is at about 70 percent of capacity; Stage 2 drought restrictions would be triggered if it drops below 60 percent. Stage 2 restrictions could include once-a-week landscape watering, prohibit operating ornamental fountains or ponds that use potable water, except to support aquatic life; and prohibit filling swimming pools with automatic valves.“But that is very unlikely. It is more likely we will stay in Stage 1,” Buham said. “Our reservoirs could continue to drop, but recover throughout the fall.”Water rates in Fort Worth are also expected to climb as the price of raw water continues rising, said Kara Shuror, assistant water director for Fort Worth. The cost of water is the “major driver in our water budget and our water rates,” she said. In 2014, the cost to buy from the district went up 9.5 percent. It is expected to increase 12 percent more in 2015. In fact, the city expects the cost of water to nearly double within 10 years, costing about $130 million by 2024 compared with the $71.5 million spent on water in 2014. “This isn’t a one-year issue. This is something we will see in the coming years,” Shuror said. Shuror said the rates won’t be released until Aug. 12, when the fiscal 2015 budget is presented to the council, but the department is proposing water rate increases. Conservation urged Buham said water conservation efforts in place throughout the water district could delay expensive projects, such as needing to build a reservoir, until about 2060. Thecouncil made two-day-a-week watering restrictions permanent in April to conserve more water, and those efforts are paying off, Shuror said. “We do have one benefit projected for 2015. Because of the level of conservation that we have seen, we have been able to substantially reduce our purchase amount,” she said. The water department is planning to cut how much water it buys from the district by about 3.5 billion gallons. The water budget is expected to increase from $235 million in 2014 to $243 million in 2015, a 3.44 percent increase. The sewer budget is expected to increase 5.11 percent, from $150 million to $158 million. Councilman Dennis Shingleton praised the water district for its emphasis on conservation. “Other water providers in North Texas are drinking potty water for lack of a better word. Tarrant Regional Water District, because of its foresight, because of its strategy and because their management … we are just not at that point yet,” Shingleton said, referring to Wichita Falls, which is in such severe drought that it is tapping treated wastewater for drinking and cooking. This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.
Caty Hirst, 817-390-7984 Twitter: @catyhirst