Stage 1 water restrictions a fading memory for most in North Texas

At this time last year, almost all of Tarrant County was under Stage 1 water restrictions that mandated which two days a week residents could water their lawns.

That lasted until May.

A year later, there's enough water in Tarrant Regional Water District supply lakes that Stage 1 restrictions have not been reimposed widely.

But at least two cities -- Southlake and River Oaks -- continue Stage 1 restrictions.

Southlake ordered restrictions because of high water usage and the strain it was placing on the system's capacity. City workers gave out 171 first warnings and six second warnings from July 30 to Aug. 27, city spokeswoman Pilar Schank said.

On the third violation, citations up to $2,000 will be issued, she said. The restrictions expire on Sept. 30 if the high water usage has ended.

Maintenance work on the River Oaks water system reduced its capacity, City Administrator Marvin Gregory said. The work should be completed by the end of September, and the city may consider lifting the restrictions then, he said.

Both Arlington and Fort Worth officials talked about making Stage 1 rules permanent, but eventually backed off. However, landscape watering with sprinklers is still forbidden every day between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.

The water district, which supplies raw water to 98 percent of Tarrant County and to several other counties, reports the water supply is in far better shape than a year ago. Water supply lakes are at 86 percent of capacity compared with 70 percent this time a year ago.

A large part of the improvement can be attributed to a more typical summer and timely rainfalls in August. Along with less intense heat, water usage significantly dropped.

In the last seven days of August, the water district's customers used an average of 353 million gallons per day compared with 505 million gallons per day in the same period last year. The twice-a-week water restrictions went into effect last year on Aug. 29.

A survey this summer of water district customers in Fort Worth, Arlington, Mansfield, North Richland Hills and Bedford found that 54 percent were limiting outdoor watering to twice a week or less; 27 percent were watering three times a week; and 19 percent were watering more than three times a week.

"I think there is more work to be done," said Linda Christie, the water district's director of government and community relations.

The water district is studying the best way to conserve water -- by making twice-a-week watering permanent or by other methods -- and plans to meet with cities' staff members by the end of the year.

Christie said conserving water to postpone adding new water supplies is one-tenth as expensive as relying on new sources, such as the $2.3 billion integrated pipeline in the design and planning stages with the city of Dallas. That pipeline will bring more water from Richland-Chambers and Cedar Creek reservoirs to the Metroplex, but its first phase isn't expected to be completed until 2020.

The Fort Worth water department is planning to conduct its own survey to gauge residents' attitudes about water restrictions, department spokeswoman Mary Gugliuzza said. Fort Worth, which has 30 wholesale customers including Hurst, Southlake, North Richland Hills and Burleson, would also like to see data about the effect of twice-a-week watering in Dallas, she said.

Mayor Betsy Price also said more information is needed before tougher restrictions are imposed.

"If we want to save money in the long run and pay less for water in the future, I still believe water conservation is part of the answer," Price said in an e-mail. "I don't think the City Council has all the information we need to make a final determination at this time. But water conservation is something we should continue to think about as our cities grow."

North Texas is in good shape compared with other parts of the state. Lake Travis, outside Austin, was at 42 percent on Wednesday; the O.H. Ivie Reservoir, near Ballinger and Coleman in West Texas, had dropped to 13 percent of capacity.

Lake Meredith near Borger in the Texas Panhandle remains essentially dry.

"We've been far better off than other parts of the state, but I think we've got a good chance at more recovery this fall and winter with forecasts of El Niño forming," said David Marshall, engineering services director for the regional water district. "I wouldn't be surprised if the lakes around here are full by spring."

The three-month outlook shows equal chances of wet or dry weather for North Texas.

Bill Hanna, 817-390-7698

Twitter: @fwhanna