Drought May Still Mussel up Water Restrictions

Posted by E.O., With 0 Comments, Category: Government, Government-featured, Govt Relations,

by Phil Crone, Director of Government Affairs and Green Building Programs

A few weeks ago, I wrote that the North Texas Municipal Water District is considering a move to Stage 4 water restrictions (their highest contemplated level). Such a move would have a significant impact on the 1 million customers that get their water from cities that the District serves.

In furtherance of Stage 4 restrictions, a city may prohibit the irrigation of new landscaping using treated water, prohibit permitting of private pools, and initiate a rate surcharge for water use that exceeds normal rates according to the District’s Model Drought Contingency Plan. The plan, which was finalized in 2008, contains model ordinances for cities to adopt. Cities served by the District include Allen, Frisco, Garland, McKinney, Mesquite, Plano, Richardson, Rockwall and Wylie.

With the possible move to Stage 4 on the District’s Jan. 26 agenda, Mother Nature came to the rescue (unconfirmed rumors say that it was actually Jerry Carter’s rain dance that caused the heavens to cry uncontrollably). Whatever it was, it sure made a difference. However, there is still a chance that the coming months leave us high and dry once more.

The recent rain dropped between 4 and 5 inches on nearly all of the area, raising lake levels from 3 to 5 feet and replenishing about 10 percent of capacity in most places. In fact, Lake Grapevine, Lake Arlington and Joe Pool Lake are now completely full! Lewisville Lake and Lake Ray Hubbard are almost 90 percent there. While that is great news for others around the area, Lake Lavon is the one to watch for those served by the North Texas Municipal Water District (NTMWD). Although Lavon was raised 3 feet and replenished more than 10 percent of its capacity, it remains only about 64% full (its highest level since Aug. 20).

If you’re still reading this you’re probably asking why Lavon is still so low. That’s because this water restrictions issue has as much to do with zebra mussels as it does with the lack of rain. For some time now, the NTMWD has been fighting with one hand tied behind their back. Zebra mussels have rendered their secondary water source, Lake Texoma, off limits. This is why the NTMWD is on Stage 3 while other areas like the City of Dallas are only on Stage 1.

Zebra mussels are an invasive species that infiltrated the Great Lakes by way of ships from Europe. Far away from their natural predators, they have ferociously reproduced and wreaked havoc on the ecosystem of just about every lake they make their way into. As Dan Patrick used to say, “You can’t stop them; you can only hope to contain them.” That’s precisely what the federal government is doing by preventing the NTMWD from using its secondary supply of water.

Not knowing what Mother Nature (or Jerry Carter) has in store for us, we need to plan for the worst and hope for the best while gathering the facts that will help policy-makers make educated decisions on how to encourage water conservation. Instead of preventing the installation of new landscaping (and possibly new homes), builders can utilize drought-tolerant turf such as Bermuda or Zoysia. Although a couple weeks of watering is needed for the turf to take hold, it will emerge intact after long periods with no water. The right turf, combined with native plants, can cut a home’s water use in half. Moreover, the newer fixtures and plumbing layouts in today’s homes are up to 30 percent more efficient than typical existing homes.

Just like with energy, the smart money on water conservation lies in existing homes and buildings. The blueprints for successful municipal initiatives are all over the nation. Cary, NC, a fast-growing Charlotte suburb, reduced its retail water production by 16 percent through measures such as adding rain sensors to existing irrigation systems, providing free audits to assess water savings strategies with residents and public awareness campaigns. Closer to home, Dallas has had a great deal of success with its New Throne for Your Home program. As the name suggests, Dallas Water Utilities customers get a rebate voucher to obtain a low-flow toilet. The program saves the city 158 million gallons of water annually.

With the right information and proven strategies, we can do our part to overcome the zebra mussel drought. A little rain dance every now and then won’t hurt either. Thanks, Jerry!