Some given variances from Fort Worth watering restrictions

07/03/2014 12:00 AM

07/03/2014 10:31 AM

Several months ago, Bill Williams was eating at a restaurant in Alliance Town Center when he noticed water running down the median and wondered about watering around the development.

On his drive to work in the early morning hours, Williams said, he saw water streaming downhill along the Interstate 35W access road as far as a third of a mile.

So the resident of far north Fort Worth began sending emails to city officials in April.

“If there is an ordinance, I’m going to make complaints,” Williams said. “Maybe something will be done with this overwatering. There has been all this encouragement to save water when the Town Center is doing quite the opposite.”

But city officials say the situation is more complicated than that. Some properties, they say, can’t easily comply with the twice-a-week-watering rules.

Even as Fort Worth has made twice-a-week restrictions permanent and encouraged residents to be wiser about water usage, 20 entities and two residences have been granted variances allowing them to water on other days.

Most variances were granted to parks and schools, as well as the Fort Worth Botanic Garden and the Fort Worth Zoo. The idea is to allow for watering on more days but to use the same amount of water.

‘Have not seen problems’

Alliance Town Center’s owner, Hillwood Properties, applied for a variance the week of June 23. Hillwood said it believes the runoff problem will be resolved.

Alliance Town Center, unlike other shopping centers, was developed on a sloping ridge, which may be aesthetically pleasing but makes it hard to irrigate with the two-day restrictions, said Craig Schkade, senior development manager at Hillwood Properties.

“By having a variance that would allow us to water up to 4 days per week, we would be able to use the same water volume per week, while minimizing the runoff that occurs as a result of the sloping landscape,” Schkade said in a statement.

Hillwood owns nearly half the 71 irrigation meters between Golden Triangle Boulevard and the Monterra Village apartments south of North Tarrant Parkway, said Mary Gugliuzza, a spokeswoman for the Fort Worth Water Department.

The city has worked with Hillwood and other tenants to adjust controls to reduce runoff.

“We have been out there every day for the last couple of weeks, and we have not seen problems,” Gugliuzza said.

Varying variances

But Williams, who has previously battled the city over trash pickup and potholes, insists that the problems have continued. He saw water running down the access road last week.

“I don’t think there are any circumstances that a shopping center should be granted a variance,” Williams said.

If the application is approved, Hillwood would be the second business to receive a variance, along with BNSF Railway.

BNSF received one for its 100-acre headquarters in north Fort Worth that began May 1 and runs through Dec. 31.

“BNSF’s engineering and maintenance teams determined the company could not water the campus property in two days, due in part to water pressure constraints which limit the ability to run multiple stations,” BNSF spokesman Joseph Faust said.

All but two of the variances have gone to public entities, although two were granted to residences. Those individuals have had their personal information withheld.

But last year, the city also granted 250 temporary variances — 25 to commercial properties — to establish landscaping. Those are typically 30-day variances.

This year, 168 variances have been granted, with 10 issued to commercial properties.

Williams doesn’t believe the city is following its own ordinance on the variances. By his reading, a variance can be granted only if all the conditions listed in the ordinance are met.

But in a June 13 email to Williams, City Attorney Sarah Fullenwider said that isn’t the case.

“Subsection g. only requires that one of the listed three conditions be met,” Fullenwider wrote. “A decision on whether one of the three conditions has been met is up to the Water Department Director.”

More enforcement?

Since twice-a-week restrictions took effect in June 2013, no citations or lockouts have been issued for violations.

When the City Council voted in April to make the restrictions permanent, the city staff said that it had sent out 6,131 notices for first offenses and 133 for second offenses but that it had issued no system lockouts or citations since June 2013.

Gugliuzza said the goal isn’t to fine or lock out customers.

“We try to meet with the customers and educate them on the issues. In most cases, it is very successful,” Gugliuzza said.

But at least one environmental group agrees that more enforcement is needed.

Ken Kramer, water resources chairman for the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, said Dallas-Fort Worth has improved significantly on water conservation during the last five years but still lags behind San Antonio and Austin on enforcement.

“I think public education has to be the first front. But at the end of the day, if people aren’t complying, you need to crack down and make sure people are playing by the rules,” Kramer said.

“You really have to have some strong enforcement, and both San Antonio and, to some extent, Austin, have been pretty aggressive about enforcement. I think Dallas and now Fort Worth have made the push to water no more than twice a week. We’ll have to see if enforcement follows.”

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