FORT WORTH -- With lakes virtually full and most cities reluctant to make permanent a twice-a-week watering limit, the Tarrant Regional Water District, which supplies raw water to 98 percent of Tarrant County, notified its customers Thursday that it is lifting the restriction as of today.
For most county residents, this means that the Stage 1 watering restrictions imposed in August as drought conditions worsened are over.
However, the water district reminded customers that restrictions remain on watering between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.
"Although drought conditions have subsided, TRWD encourages the public to continue practicing voluntary conservation measures in order to reduce peak demands in the summer and prolong the area's water supplies," the district said in a news release.
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No longer in effect are rules against washing cars at home or power-washing houses.
Rules that still apply include measures against wasting water on hard surfaces such as concrete or allowing runoff down the street.
The announcement follows council meetings in Arlington and Fort Worth where members discussed water issues but didn't vote on making a twice-a-week limit part of their permanent conservation plans.
The mayors of Fort Worth, Dallas, Arlington and Irving had pursued making the limit part of a regional conservation plan, and the Dallas City Council adopted the rule last week.
The Mayors' Council of Tarrant County also adopted a resolution last month supporting the concept of a twice-a-week limit.
But when it became clear that neither Arlington nor Fort Worth was going to immediately follow suit, Mansfield officials wrote a letter urging the water district to lift the restriction right away rather than wait until June 1 as originally planned.
"We were getting a lot of phone calls from people saying, 'I don't know when I can water,'" said Joe Smolinski, Mansfield's director of utilities.
"We asked them to go ahead and do it now instead of waiting until June 1 because there was a lot of confusion."
A permanent twice-a-week limit makes sense as a regional conservation measure, but only if all cities take part and residents buy into the idea, Smolinski said.
"I think the message is pretty clear: They don't want to be told to conserve. They want to be told how to conserve," Smolinski said.
"At some point down the road, it will make sense to revisit the issue, but it has to make sense financially and it has to have the support of the public, which means we've got a lot of education work to do."
Haltom City apparently planned to keep the twice-a-week limit. Last month, the City Council adopted a resolution in favor of keeping the restriction, City Manager Tom Muir said.
Grapevine Mayor William D. Tate said he had concerns that the twice-a-week watering schedule wasn't fair to those without sprinkler systems.
But even though the restriction has been lifted, he said, the district and local governments still need to develop a conservation plan. "I do think we are heading for a crisis," Tate said.
"With the projected growth in population, we are in for trouble."
Water planners have said the region needs to conserve more to help serve a North Texas population that is expected to more than double by 2060.
Drought will return
Given the weather extremes in Texas, it won't be the last time the region faces watering restrictions, said Mary Gugliuzza, spokeswoman for the Fort Worth Water Department.
"It is not a matter of if but when we return to Stage 1," Gugliuzza said.
"It may be one year; it may be four years. While we cannot control the amount of rainfall in our watershed, we can control how much we use and how much we stretch our supplies. Remember, irrigation should only be done to supplement rainfall, and lawns don't need more than 1 inch of water every week to two weeks at this time of year."
The Fort Worth City Council is expected to revisit the twice-a-week limit this summer.
Mayor Betsy Price has expressed support for the restriction, but several council members have raised concerns.
Last week in Arlington, the City Council didn't take a vote after residents spoke out against the plan.
Stage 1 restrictions took effect Aug. 29 as the water district's lakes reached 75 percent of capacity.
At the end of November, the water supply dropped to its lowest point, 67 percent, before winter rains started to replenish the reservoirs.
As of Thursday, the lakes had reached 97 percent.
The water district said the drought restrictions reduced demand by 8 percent during peak summer usage, saving up to 45 million gallons per day.
The district's affected cities and entities include: Aledo, Arlington, Azle, Bedford, Bethesda Water Supply Corp., the Benbrook Water Authority, Burleson, Colleyville, Crowley, Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, Dalworthington Gardens, Edgecliff Village, Euless, Everman, Forest Hill, Fort Worth, Grand Prairie, Grapevine, Haltom City, Haslet, Hurst, Keller, Kennedale, Lake Worth, Mansfield, Northlake, North Richland Hills, Richland Hills, Roanoke, Saginaw, Southlake, the Trinity River Authority, the Trophy Club Municipal Utility District, Watauga, Westlake, Westover Hills, Westworth Village and White Settlement.
The district serves 1.8 million people in North Texas.
For the most part, cities are not required to take council action to lift the restrictions, but residents are encouraged to contact their city government or water provider if they have questions.
Most cities, including Arlington, Colleyville, Hurst, North Richland Hills and Southlake, have said they would remove the restrictions.
Southlake initiated water restrictions in July, a month earlier than most Tarrant County cities.
David Wasson, general manager of the Benbrook Water Authority, said it will lift the restrictions and continue to monitor what other Tarrant County cities do.
Staff writers Darren Barbee, Terry Evans, Steve Norder, Nicholas Sakelaris, Susan Schrock and Ashley Whiteman contributed to this report.
Bill Hanna, 817-390-7698