Limits to outdoor watering become a permanent part of the Texas landscape

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August 04, 2014

As Smart Irrigation Month ends and summer temperatures continue to rise, outdoor irrigation continues to be limited across much of Texas. Some outdoor irrigation restrictions are always in effect through water conservation policies, whereas others are temporarily triggered as a result of drought response. Water conservation strategies reduce the consumption, loss, or waste of water at […]

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Does Water Conservation have to be the Enemy of Financial Stability?

National Geographic NewsWatch, July 16, 2014

Pricing is a powerful tool for shaping behavior, including water use. Recognizing the power of pricing, more water utilities are adopting water rates designed to encourage customers to conserve. These so-called “conservation rates” vary in form, but generally they increase the price per gallon of water the more water a customer uses. Across the country, utilities can testify to the power of pricing by pointing to their decreased water sales. This is great news from a conservation standpoint, but the unintended result can be unexpected reductions in revenue.

The need for more reliable revenue is more important than ever, as water service providers contend with prolonged droughts and aging infrastructure. Unfortunately, this need for revenue can make conservation the unwanted stepchild of water utilities.

The good news is that there are more tools than ever to help water systems anticipate the potential volatility of future revenues.

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Should Austin conserve more water? Yes, task force says

Austin American Statesman, July 6, 2014

As Texas’ drought persists, the Austin City Council recently asked a group of volunteers to spend two months weighing ideas for new water supplies that the city could pursue to slake Austin’s thirst.

But the group — 11 people, many of whom have backgrounds in water policy — spent more time talking about conservation than they did poring over proposals to find more water elsewhere.

The group’s conclusion: Austin should be far more aggressive about saving the water it has before turning to expensive and logistically difficult sources, such as building pipelines to pump in water from far-flung places.

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Down the drain: Nearly 300 million gallons of water for 10 Texas cities in 2013

Lubbock Avalanche Journal Online, June 28, 2014

The state’s 10 largest cities flushed nearly 300 million gallons out of water mains and down the drain last year.

About a third of that was in Houston alone.

Municipalities are required by state law to circulate dead-end lines monthly to safeguard the public’s water. So, flushing is out of local control. But city planners can, and do, limit or reduce the number of dead-end lines that require the monthly flush…The amount of water flushed annually in these Texas cities in most cases is less than half of 1 percent of each city’s overall water use.

Still, residents are often shocked to see a fire hydrant gushing water into the street, especially during a lingering drought when conservation efforts champion the mantra that every drop counts.

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New Rules Could Shed Light on Future Water Projects

Texas Tribune, June 17, 2014

The future of Texas’ water supply will start to take shape on Tuesday afternoon when the Texas Water Development Board releases draft rules for funding major water projects over the next several decades.

Amid the continuing drought, voters approved Proposition 6 in November, authorizing the Legislature to provide the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas with $2 billion from the state’s Rainy Day Fund.

The infusion of funds is intended to be self-sustaining, with the board only allowed to make loans instead of grants. But competition for the money will be fierce: The 2012 State Water Plan outlined $53 billion worth of potential water projects, such as pipelines and reservoirs.

The online release of the rules will offer clues for which projects will become top priorities. Though a law passed last year, House Bill 4, provides some parameters for the allocation of funds, the board has significant leeway to set its own standards. As required by law, 16 regional groups have submitted their own rankings of projects, but it is unclear how they will translate to the statewide prioritization process.

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7 of 13 cities already meet new limits on water usage

Dallas Morning News, June 15, 2014

Water levels at Lavon Lake are already more than four feet lower than this point last year, and there’s an extra-hot summer in the forecast. So Tom Kula, executive director of the North Texas Municipal Water District, recently asked the district’s 13 member cities to cut water use 15 to 20 percent.

It turns out that seven of them already had, cutting usage by more than 20 percent since October 2011, when those cities started significant conservation efforts.

All of the cities in the 20 percent club have told residents to limit outdoor sprinkler use to once every two weeks. Princeton voted to do that only a couple of weeks ago and had still cut water usage by more than 20 percent.

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First take on prioritizing water projects: Houston can’t be sure its projects will win out over scores of others

Houston Chronicle, June 9, 2014

Houston and its suburbs consider a mega-plumbing job that would move water from the Trinity River to Lake Houston as a key step in satisfying their growing thirst over the next half-century.

But is it a priority?

A rough draft of which water-supply projects in the region deserve Texas’ funding suggests others are more worthy. More than 70 strategies rank ahead of the $254 million Luce Bayou project, even though the proposed 26-mile system of pipelines and canals would provide water to some higher-ranking plans.

The project’s relatively poor showing does not torpedo the possibility of it getting financial help from the state. But it underscores the difficulty in determining how best to invest a $2 billion fund for new water supplies across drought-prone Texas.

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AgriLife Research expert: Drought, water limitations survivable by turfgrasses

AgriLife Today, May 26, 2014

Many areas of Texas are having water shortages in the continuing drought, and a big concern is the inability to irrigate turfgrass, whether that is due to lack of water or municipality restrictions.

Homeowners are asking: What is my turf going to look like; will it come back?

Dr. Richard White, Texas A&M AgriLife Research turfgrass management scientist in College Station, said the answer is yes, with patience and a little water to keep growing points alive.

“We have a difficult time changing home consumers’ behavior in terms of how they apply water sometimes,” White said. “That’s the big reason you see so much water being used in landscapes. If they would tolerate potential 75-80 percent attrition during these dry times – the 20-25 percent of the growing points left will help rejuvenate the lawn once the rains return.”

“We have a lot we can do to conserve water if we are irrigating based on science, rather than a clock,” White said. “Our studies show that 25 percent of the population irrigating landscapes use 50 percent of all the potable water consumed within a municipality because they are not well-versed on irrigation of lawns and landscapes.

 

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Agreeing to Disagree on State’s Future Water Needs

New York Times, Texas Tribune, May 8, 2014

The 2012 state water plan, the state’s strategy for meeting water needs, estimated that Texas would face a shortfall of 2.7 trillion gallons a year by 2060, and that filling the gap would take an estimated $53 billion in new infrastructure.

But some water law and planning specialists said that the water needs had been overstated. A report for the nonprofit Texas Center for Policy Studies, an environmental research group, said that Texas would need only an additional 1.1 trillion gallons of water a year by 2060, in part because the state plan overestimated future agricultural demands and underestimated the effects of conservation measures.

Calculations in the Center for Policy Studies report suggest that if such conservation measures are enhanced, the Dallas-Fort Worth region could reduce its 2060 demand by as much as 200 billion gallons a year, or about as much water as would be supplied by a controversial and expensive project the region is considering — the $3.3 billion Marvin Nichols Reservoir in East Texas.

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