Other Voices

Fort Worth’s lawn watering plan has become albatross

Water pours over the spillway at Lake Palo Pinto on Thursday.
Water pours over the spillway at Lake Palo Pinto on Thursday. City of Mineral Wells

On Saturday, May 9 — election day, ironically, for the Tarrant Regional Water District — during the wettest spring in years and with heavy rain in the forecast, Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price watered her lawn.

She explained at the following Tuesday’s City Council meeting that her sprinkler system had malfunctioned for the first time.

I believe Price’s sprinkler system did not malfunction. Rather, its owner functioned as programmed by Fort Worth’s Drought Contingency Plan, the document that tells us on which days we may water.

Saturday is one of Price’s designated watering days, so she put her sprinkler system on a timer, and on Saturday, it watered her yard.

In drought-prone Texas, the last thing a homeowner should do is put her sprinkler system on a timer. Even the best rain and moisture sensors cannot watch the forecast.

Sprinklers should be set to manual and turned on only when needed.

But like thousands of other Fort Worth residents struggling to comply with a law that is no respecter of their busy lives, windy days, the forecast or conservation principles, Price set her system to automatic.

On May 12, the TRWD announced that Stage I water restrictions were ending. Our amazing rainy spring, capped off by this last week of heavy precipitation, has filled our reservoirs to capacity, ending a despicable drought.

With no place to put the water, the TRWD already has sent more than 110 billion gallons over the spillways to the Gulf of Mexico, a staggering volume that dwarfs the total expected annual water savings from all TRWD conservation efforts.

Before April 8, 2014, the end of Stage I would have meant the end of designated watering days, the return of many sprinkler systems to manual, and a little more freedom so citizens can conserve the way we know best.

But on that day more than a year ago, although she was far away in Australia, Price persuaded seven City Council members to amend the city’s landscape ordinance to make designated watering days permanent, even after TRWD declares an end to Stage I.

At that same council meeting, I proposed a modification to the Drought Plan called the Woodard Plan. It works as follows:

▪ The Drought Plan restricts outdoor watering to Tuesdays and Fridays for businesses, Wednesdays and Saturdays for even-numbered residences, and Thursdays and Sundays for odd-numbered residences. Monday is the Water Sabbath, on which no one waters.

▪ The Woodard Plan adopts all of the provisions of the Drought Plan and even the mayor’s goal of permanent watering restrictions, even when Stage I has ended, with one improvement. Residents could water any two or less of the following days: Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays.

The Woodard Plan would be the rule year-round, so the mayor keeps her permanent restrictions, but residents gain flexibility and can exercise their conservation skills. The sprinkler systems return to manual. Compliance increases, as there is no incentive to cheat. It’s a radical idea: A little less government equals more conservation.

Aside from an embarrassing moment as the elected official who insisted that designated watering days be made permanent, even when we are discharging 110 billion gallons to the Gulf, Price did nothing wrong when she watered on election day. She violated no ordinance, as it was not raining at the moment her sprinklers were running.

In fact, she did us a favor. By watering unnecessarily, Price will pay a higher water bill than necessary — and the water department, hurt by declining sales, needs the money.

To the extent her water soaked into her landscaping or evaporated, she reduced flooding downstream, if only by a tiny amount.

Stage I is over. It’s time for our City Council to trust residents to lead on conservation. It’s time for the Woodard Plan.

Blake Woodard is a Fort Worth businessman. blake@woodardcompanies.com