March 29, 2014

Mineral Wells down to 400-day supply of water

The city’s water woes are the latest example that problems gripping other parts of the state are creeping closer to Dallas-Fort Worth.

With the rain amounting to little more than a trickle this year, Mineral Wells Mayor Mike Allen has become increasingly worried.

The city of 16,731, where its mineral waters once made the town famous, is having to cut back back on water consumption like many other Texas cities.

But it’s not the mineral waters that are the problem.

The city’s main water source, Lake Palo Pinto, 22 miles southwest of town, is only 25 percent full, forcing Mineral Wells and several surrounding cities to go to once-a-week outdoor watering restrictions on Tuesday.

“I’ve been praying for rain,” Allen said. “If we don’t get rain, we’re going to have to take some very drastic measures.”

Mineral Wells’ water woes are just the latest example that the problems that have been gripping the state are creeping closer to Dallas-Fort Worth. In fact, the city’s restrictions also impact some rural water providers in western Parker County.

Earlier this month, the Tarrant Regional Water District, which provides raw water to 98 percent of Tarrant County, said once-a-week water restrictions could be imposed locally by the end of summer in its worst-case projections. But Tarrant Regional officials expect to see enough rain this spring and summer to prevent that from happening.

For Mineral Wells, that time has already arrived. The rules also affect customers in Graford, Palo Pinto, Santo and Millsap, which all buy their water from Mineral Wells, about 50 miles west of Fort Worth. All told, the restrictions affect a population of about 31,000.

Currently, Mineral Wells has about a 400-day supply of water but hopes to start drawing from the Brazos River on June 1 to stretch out the supply. Including water from the Brazos River, officials project they have about a 500-day supply of water.

But they don’t have the rights to any Brazos River water and are looking to temporarily acquire unused water rights.

“We are still working on finding water, but I would say we’re hopeful,” said Scott Blasor, secretary-treasurer for the Palo Pinto Municipal Water District No. 1, the raw water provider for Mineral Wells that owns Lake Palo Pinto.

In 2009, Mineral Wells was able to get unused water rights from a Parker County Special Utility District temporarily assigned to the city.

Curtailing water rights

Like many other parts of North Texas, Mineral Wells has seen a significant lack of rainfall. Since the drought began in October 2010, Mineral Wells is more than 33 inches below normal, according to the National Weather Service.

“I would say this is as bad as I’ve seen it since I’ve been here,” said Blasor, who has held jobs with either Mineral Wells or the Palo Pinto water district since 1998.

What Mineral Wells is seeing is similar to the rainfall deficits across the DFW area since the drought began. But this month, Mineral Wells has seen less than an inch while DFW Airport has seen 1.45 inches.

Some parts of North Texas saw storms on Friday, but the rain missed many areas. DFW Airport and Mineral Wells both reported just a trace.

In the latest U.S. Drought Monitor that came out Thursday, almost all of Palo Pinto County is listed in extreme drought, the second most serious category. Southern Tarrant County and parts of Johnson, Hood, Parker and Somervell counties are also classified in extreme drought.

The Brazos River Authority is sending out notices this week asking customers for a 10 percent reduction in water consumption in the upper basin of the Brazos, which includes Possum Kingdom Lake, Lake Granbury and Lake Whitney.

About 90 miles north of Mineral Wells, Wichita Falls has declared a Stage 4 drought disaster, where no outdoor watering is permitted and fines can range as high as $2,000.

Earlier this month, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality sent out notices to water rights holders warning that some rights could be curtailed this summer if the drought continues.

“This letter is to inform you that if a priority call is made, the TCEQ may have to suspend or adjust water rights on a priority basis in some areas of the state,” TCEQ Deputy Executive Director Stephanie Bergeron Perdue said in the March 11 letter.

“What concerns us is we’ve been 7 percent lower each year since 2010,” said Matt Phillips, government relations manager for the Brazos River Authorty. “It’s just been a constant downward trend.”

The Brazos River Authority’s overall system is at 72 percent, but Lake Granbury is at an all-time low. The BRA said its low level is simply a function of the drought, but local officials say the agency’s management practices are at least partly to blame.

‘The hell of bureaucracy’

In Mineral Wells, the long-term solution is building the $70 million Turkey Peak Reservoir just downstream from Lake Palo Pinto, which would effectively double the city’s water supply.

“When it’s full, it would essentially be one lake — we would cut a notch in the dam for boating and recreational purposes — but when it is lower it would be two separate lakes,” Blasor said.

Turkey Peak is still in the application process with the Army Corps of Engineers and the TCEQ. Blasor said officials hope to have a permit in the next year or two.

If they receive a permit, construction would start in 2018 and be completed in 2020.

When it is full, Turkey Peak would cover about 2,800 acres, but it would have greater depth than Lake Palo Pinto.

“We’ve been trying to get through the hell of bureaucracy to get that dam built,” said Allen, the Mineral Wells mayor. “Of course that doesn’t help us right now, and when we get it built, we’ve got to have enough rain to fill it.”

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