Stage 3 drought emergency restrictions began Wednesday amid lingering questions among residents regarding what the city is doing to secure lasting water supplies and what they need to do to conserve water.
Wichita Falls Mayor Glenn Barham, City Manager Darron Leiker, Public Works Director Russell Schreiber, Public Utilities Superintendent Daniel Nix and Assistant Director of Health Amy Fagan held a news conference Wednesday morning at Lake Arrowhead to address questions and fears residents may have, along with reiterating strict regulations and long-term planning to keep the water supply safe.
Barham said part of the reason for calling the meeting was to emphasize the dire situation.
What should the public do now that we’re in stage 3 restrictions? Barham asked. On the city’s website, under the drought restrictions, there is a link to a document with 100 ways to reduce water use.
“Lake Arrowhead is ... below 40 percent capacity. Everybody at home, all of our citizens, need to realize how critical our water situation is, and you need to do your part and your family needs to their part in helping the community save water,” Barham said. “It is a dire situation. We do have plans in place to hopefully alleviate some of the shortage.”
Leiker said the city has been working diligently with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for at least a year toward completing both short-term and long-term goals for the water reuse project that would allow Wichita Falls to recycle effluent water into lake water for immediate use.
Leiker said the plan is much more immediate than dredging, which takes a year or two to complete and costs millions of dollars.
Leiker explained at one point, in early 2000s, water levels were as low or lower than they are now, and fewer restrictions were placed on water use at the time.
“For one, dredging the lakes, it’s terribly expensive and takes quite a while. It doesn’t just happen overnight, and it costs tens of millions of dollars,” Leiker said. “The reuse plan is a plan that makes more sense because we know it will have an immediate impact.”
Schreiber said the last siltation survey was completed in 2002 and another is scheduled to be completed this year, but the lakes must be above 40 percent for the survey to be accurate. The siltation in 2002 was less than expected, Leiker said, which refutes the misconception the lakes are at 40 percent siltation.
The effluent water project could create 7 million to 10 million extra gallons of water per day into the city’s water supply. The plans and authorization from TCEQ come with stringent demands to ensure the absolute safety of the water for drinking.
Nix reiterated that code enforcement officers will be out in numbers actively seeking residents violating the restrictions. The first fine is $25, but comes to $89 with court costs added.
A second fine for water violations is $500, and for third and consequent fines costs $2,000 per fine, not including court costs.
“The overall reduction goal for stage 3 is 35 percent, so we’ve added an additional 20 percent to the existing 15 percent that we had in stage 2. We believe that we can get that with just a cutback in irrigation practices throughout the city,” Nix said.
Schreiber said the two primary restrictions that citizens will notice are irrigation times.
Hand watering with a shut off valve is still allowed any time, just as it was in stage 2. Automatic sprinkler systems may only be used from midnight to 5 a.m. one day per week as specified by the Water Rationing Zone Map, and hose end sprinklers may be used from 8 p.m. to midnight one day per week as specified by the Water Rationing Zone Map.
“We have enacted a new surcharge. ... The surcharges for stage 3 are substantially increased. The idea there is to discourage that discretionary water use and ... curtail that discretionary type of water use,” Schreiber said. “As managers of the supply for not only Wichita Falls but the entire North Texas Region, it’s our jobs to be as prudent as we can with our resources. We need to position ourselves as the drought continues ... to extend and prolong our water supply.”
Fagan spoke briefly about tighter regulations on restaurants and bars not offering water unless requested, thawing meat without water, and cleaning without spray hoses.
For more information and a complete list of regulations, visit www.timesrecordnews.com. To report water violations during normal business hours, call 940-761-7477 or after hours, call 940-720-5000.