Council’s resolve on water weakens

Surrounded by the problems of drought, five members of the Fort Worth City Council have suddenly gone weak in the knees, unwilling to extend a proven water conservation plan and unable to put forward something that even remotely looks like it will work better.

Shame on them.

Council members W.B. “Zim” Zimmerman, Jungus Jordan, Kelly Allen Gray, Gyna Bivens and Danny Scarth should come to next week’s council meeting ready to extend the twice-a-week landscape watering restrictions in place for almost a year or prepared to demonstrate convincingly that an alternate plan will stave off a potential water emergency should rain not fill area lakes.

Mayor Betsy Price and Councilmen Sal Espino, Joel Burns and Dennis Shingleton were ready to extend the current restrictions at Tuesday night’s council meeting.

Since Jan. 1, Dallas/Fort Worth Airport has recorded only 2.19 inches of precipitation. Most of the rain, 1.45 inches, came in the usually wet month of March. That was about 3 inches below normal.

North Texans need not go far to see what severe drought looks like.

Wichita Falls has put unprecedented Stage 4 emergency restrictions in place, banning all outdoor watering. The city of 104,000 about 100 miles northwest of Fort Worth has completed testing on a system to recycle filtered and cleansed “potty water” back into its drinking water system.

Fort Worth is not near that point, but Tarrant Regional Water District lakes are three to seven feet below normal with the exception of Lake Bridgeport, which is more than 21 feet below normal.

The West Fork of the Trinity River, which flows through Lake Bridgeport and Eagle Mountain Lake, has started the year drier than at any time since the 1950s.

This is no time for weakened resolve or unproven methods of water conservation.

Aided by current twice-a-week watering restrictions and other conservation measures, water use on a per-capita-per-day basis in Fort Worth fell from 168.79 gallons in 2012 to 157.80 gallons in 2013, according to data presented to the council last month.

The five-year trend of per-capita-per-day use fell from 207.01 gallons in 2006 to 171.91 gallons in 2013.

All of the council members say they favor water conservation. But what apparently caused them to weaken on the current restrictions is the opinion of one man, businessman Blake Woodard.

Woodard, backed by about 20 people who responded to his plea for support at Tuesday night’s council meeting, said the current restrictions treat residents like children.

The current restrictions allow residential landscape watering on Wednesday and Saturday for even-numbered addresses, Thursday and Sunday for odd-number addresses.

Woodard favors a less-structured system, with residents still restricted to watering only two days a week but allowing them to pick Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday or Sunday.

That way, Woodard told the council, residents could adapt their watering schedule according to their landscape’s needs, any rain that might fall and their own schedules.

Some of the council members who balked at extending the current restrictions said they wanted time to study Woodard’s plan.

How long does it take to see that a system with little structure won’t work as well as one that has stronger guidelines?

Zimmerman said he has questions about extending the current restrictions.

“Who is going to enforce it?” he asked. He complained that the current restrictions pit “neighbors against neighbors” to report violations.

But who is going to enforce any conservation plan? The truth is, any plan will rely primarily on voluntary compliance.

And that’s another strength of the current plan. Residents have had time to adapt to it, learn how much to water their lawns and plants to take best advantage of their watering days, even buy soaker hoses and other equipment if that’s what they want to do under the current system.

The reluctant council members should come to next week’s meeting prepared to show how any new plan would do anything more than disrupt a good thing.

The city must present a new water conservation plan to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Texas Water Development Board by May 1.

The plan should include extension of the current landscape watering restrictions.