Temperatures haven’t hit 100 degrees yet and North Texas residents have actually seen something wet fall from the sky this summer. But that doesn’t mean the drought is over. In fact, rainfall is so far below normal that water restrictions are settling in for a second year.
Normal rainfall through July 7 is 20.59 inches, said Eric Martello, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service, but so far this year there’s only been 10.59 inches reported at DFW Airport.
“Some places have received an abundance,” said Mark Olson, conservation and creative manager for the Tarrant Regional Water District. “Some parts of our watershed have not received that water. We need to see some rainfall that is going to produce run-off to fill our reservoirs.”
Until that happens, homeowners need to watch their water usage, especially on their yards. Stage 1 water restrictions have been in place since last July in the Tarrant Regional Water District (Mansfield, Arlington and Fort Worth), which means that businesses and homeowners are limited to twice-a-week outdoor watering. In Mansfield, city ordinance limits commercial businesses to Tuesday and Friday watering, while homeowners with even number residences water on Wednesday and Saturday and odd number residences water on Thursday and Sunday.
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Another city ordinance bars any watering between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. any day of the week throughout the year, said Joe Smolinski, Mansfield’s director of utilities.
“We really don’t have an issue with people who say they aren’t going to comply,” Smolinski said. “What we’re noticing is that having been in Stage 1, it has become their normal response to conserve.”
The first time Mansfield went to Stage 1 water restrictions was from Aug. 29, 2011, through May 2012. The Tarrant Regional Water District reinstated the restrictions in July 2013 and the region continues to be in Stage 1. And that’s a good thing, Olson said.
“If you’re watering more than two times a week, you’re wasting water,” he said. “We’re trying to educate people that lawns are resilient and don’t need as much water as we think.”
Neither do established trees and shrubs, Olson said, while flowers and vegetables are a “personal thing.”
“They will tell you when they need water,” he said. “Watering by hand is a great way to manage how much water you’re putting into the landscape.”
Water conservation is not just an ecological matter, it’s a financial concern.
“Water is a valuable resource,” Olson said. “Landscape watering accounts for 40 percent of the water we use at home. If we all turned off our sprinklers right now, the amount of water we saved would be in the millions of gallons on a daily basis.”
Average daily water consumption in the Tarrant Regional Water District is 200 million gallons per day, Olson said. That number spikes at 500 million gallons per day in July and August, he said.
On a twice-a-week watering schedule, lawns need 1/2 inch on the first day and 1/4 inch on the second. For 1/4 inch, rotary heads should be on a 12-minute cycle, while spray heads should be on a six-minute cycle, he said. For 1/2 inch, double that time, Olson said. Instead of programming water sprinklers, it’s more beneficial to pay attention to the weather, he said.
“There were 33 weeks last year that we recommended to Tarrant County residents that they not water at all,” Olson said.
The Tarrant Regional Water District enacts the restrictions in response to the lake levels that supply water to the area. Once the combined levels fall below 75 percent the area goes into Stage 1 restrictions. If lake levels fall to 60 percent, the area drops to Stage 2, which means residents and businesses can water once per week. If lake levels slide to 45 percent, Stage 3 restrictions are enforced, which means no outdoor watering is allowed, except hand watering.
The North Texas Municipal Water District, which serves McKinney, Frisco, Terrell, Kaufman, Hurst, Euless and Bedford, has already enacted twice-monthly outdoor watering restrictions. Smolinski hopes that Mansfield doesn’t reach that stage.
“In a best-case scenario, we will ride out the summer demand and sometime in the fall climb out enough to come out (of Stage 1),” Smolinski said.