Tag Archives: water conservation

Cities’ conundrum: whether to limit water use and cut revenue

Janet Rummel, public relations and communications officer for the North Texas Municipal Water District, has a possible word to the wise to city officials who might be reluctant to enact water-use restrictions in the face of a punishing drought.

If you are concerned about a loss of revenue collected from water use fees, then your reluctance to impose water conservation measures carries even greater risk.

You will run out of water, Rummel warned in remarks to the Rotary Club of Fairview.

Much of the state remains caught in drought conditions. The Texas Panhandle, where my wife and I lived until this past May, went through an entire winter with any measurable precipitation. No snow. No rain. Nothing!

North Texas didn’t fare much better than the Panhandle, as I have learned.

So, cities that are pondering whether to impose restrictions on water use face the mother of conundrums: Do they interfere with their revenue stream, depriving their municipal coffers of money used to fund various public services?

The NTMWD, based in Wylie, serves about a dozen communities north and east of Dallas. Rummel talked about the array of measures that the district has taken to improve the quality of water; it also is planning to spend a significant amount of money to improve the delivering of water.

From my standpoint, a city that faces the prospect of running dry — of losing its water supply — has no choice whatsoever than to impose limits, even if it chokes off the revenue it uses to pay for the myriad municipal services it provides. Moreover, I am amazed that city officials would be so reluctant to take a proactive stance that conserves this priceless natural resource.

And yet, according to Janet Rummel, cities are wringing their hands over such a decision. I find the quandary a non-starter.

Water has returned to top of our minds

Imagine my non-surprise.

The Texas Panhandle drought has gotten us  talking out loud again about water, conserving it, looking for more environmentally sound ways to grow and harvest our crops.

We’re now into a lengthy dry spell with no measurable precipitation. The record is now just a handful of days away. It’s looking as though we’re going to break the record set in 1902. Hey, all records were meant to be broken. Frankly, I’d prefer to see this one stand.

But is Amarillo about to run dry? No. Not even close.

Some aggressive water-rights purchasing over the course of the past decade has enabled Amarillo to maintain a viable water supply. The city in conjunction with the Canadian River Municipal Water Authority — which supplies Amarillo and nearly a dozen other communities with water — acquired many years of water rights from T. Boone Pickens, the former Amarillo oil and natural gas magnate.

Many billions of gallons of water remain undeveloped. It’s under our feet, deep within the Ogallala Aquifer.

We have a serious lesson that needs to be heeded, however.

Our water is not infinite. It won’t last forever. Oh, certainly Amarillo will have water at its disposal for many generations. We can thank an aggressive water-purchasing endeavor led by a municipal management team headed by a city manager, Jarrett Atkinson, with extensive knowledge of water management issues. Atkinson has moved on; he’s now city manager in Lubbock.

The drought that has gripped the Panhandle, though, looks as though it could be worse than it was in 2011, when it got — shall we say — pretty damn severe. Lake Meredith sank to a shockingly low 26-foot depth; it has rallied considerably since then, but the region needs rain badly.

As we wait and perhaps pray for more rain, we at least can rest reasonably assured that Amarillo will stay “wet” for the foreseeable future.

We dare not get wasteful while we wait for a change in our meteorological fortunes.

Let’s not set a new water-use record, OK?

Amarillo residents think they need to be No. 1 … apparently.

City Hall staff reports that water usage Tuesday tied an all-time daily record, set in August 2002. Residents and businesses pumped 92 million gallons of water in a single day.

That’s a lot of, um, lawn irrigation, car washes and pool fillups.

The city’s Every Drop Counts water conservation mantra needs to be placed on the top of residents’ minds.

Yes, the city took a lot of rain early this month. My wife and I were on the road, but we heard about it. Our favorite playa, Lake McDonald, has been revived thanks to the abundant moisture.

News about heavy water use does concern me. I’m sure it concerns you, too.

I want to harken back about two years ago when the city’s administrative staff was run by a certified water expert. City Manager Jarrett Atkinson could talk water policy, conservation and management with the best of ’em. Then he quit as city manager because — as I understand it — he had difficulty working with the then-new City Council majority. He landed in Lubbock, where as city manager he is now lending his water-conservation expertise to that city’s governing council.

The message ought to remain the same in the city Atkinson left behind. Our water is not infinite.

I get that it’s hot! Summer has arrived. However, every drop of water does count. Really. It does!

Cruz pays for lack of pandering


Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad has torn Sen. Ted Cruz a new one.

He calls Cruz an unfit Republican presidential nominee and is urging Iowa caucus participants to ensure he doesn’t win that state’s candidate selection process.

I’m going to say something good about Cruz, however, even though I do not believe he should be the next president of the United States.

Branstad’s dislike of Cruz well might have something to do with the Cruz’s refusal to pander to Iowans’ specific needs and desires — to which I say “bravo!” to the senator.

They grow a lot of corn in the Hawkeye State. They use much of that corn to produce ethanol fuel. Cruz has long opposed subsidizing ethanol. Branstad doesn’t like Cruz’s opposition to it. Thus, he says Cruz shouldn’t be the choice of Iowans.

Enlightened self-interest? That’s what they call it. Conservatives who used to love Cruz now think less of him. It’s all about the corn.

Cruz, though, has shied away from pandering to that particular constituency.

Cruz is taking his share of hits from other Republicans, not to mention from Democrats. Lord knows I’ve lobbed my share of stones at the Cruz Missile from this forum.

The ethanol argument, though, is an interesting back story in this Iowa Republican caucus kerfuffle.

The corn used to produce the fuel requires a lot of water. I repeat . . . a lot of water. There used to be a huge demand for it here, on the Texas Tundra. Then it dawned on many folks that the water it consumes is more valuable to the region than the fuel. The fever for ethanol production has cooled considerably in the Panhandle.

Not so in Iowa.

Cruz isn’t going to jump onto the ethanol train. He does favor more exploration for fossil fuel, which isn’t surprising, either, given that he represents Texas in the U.S. Senate. And yep, we produce a lot of oil and natural gas here, correct?

OK, so perhaps Sen. Cruz isn’t being totally and completely high-minded in his opposition to ethanol subsidies.

Still, a lot of politicians have journeyed to Iowa to sing the praises of ethanol production just because their audience wants to hear it from them.


Warning: The drought ain't over!

I noticed recently that Amarillo’s year-to-date rainfall total is slightly ahead of normal.

That gives some folks comfort. It gives others the mistaken notion that the drought that has grabbed the High Plains by the throat for the past four or five years has abated.

Nothing of the sort has happened.

The Amarillo rainfall total likely will finish around normal by the end of the year. I cannot predict that with any certainty, but it seems like a pretty good bet.

The problem with these droughts is that the depletion of water requires a lot of rainfall and snowfall to make it up in a brief period of time. When I say “a lot,” I mean epic proportions.

I had the pleasure of taking part in a statewide public television reporting project on the state of water in Texas. “Texas Perspective: Water” covered the condition of our water supply from the Panhandle to the Rio Grand Valley, from Deep East Texas to the Trans-Pecos. Everyone interviewed said the same thing: We’re in a drought.

It’s worse in some areas than in others, but statewide the condition of our water supply is at varying levels of precariousness.


It is my fervent hope that Amarillo residents and business owners keep the drought in mind as they go about their day. We can hope for continued rain. Maybe we ought to pray for it.

Let us not be tricked into believing the drought is over just because this year has brought us “normal” amounts of precipitation — which in this part of the world isn’t very much.


Rain mustn't stop need to save water

All the rain that’s drenched the Texas Panhandle in recent days has filled our playas and perhaps filled residents with a false sense of security about our future.

Perish the thought.


That drought that got us all worried hasn’t dissipated. It’s still with us. Yes, we’ve erased our year-to-date rain deficit with all that moisture, but that doesn’t mean the need to conserve water is any less crucial.

The blog link attached here notes that local governments continue to place water conservation at or near the top of their agendas. It ought to stay there, perhaps even when — or if — the drought ever is broken.

Amarillo officials boast of the city’s 200- or 300-year water supply. The city has purchased a lot of water rights, along with the rights obtained by the Canadian River Municipal Water Authority. Two or three centuries surely is a long way off and none of us will be around; nor will our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, great-greats … etc. Heck, I cannot even count the number of “greats” to factor in here.

The point is that we want the region to last well beyond the foreseeable future. Without water, survival is impossible.

Agriculture production accounts for the vast majority of water use in the Panhandle. Therefore, the burden is on the producers to do what they can to save water. The rest of us who want some water to irrigate our lawns or feed our flowers and veggie gardens? We can do our part, too.

Let’s not be lulled into thinking, though, that a good bit of rain makes it all better.

It doesn’t. Not by a long shot.

Is it windier and dryer than ever?

A particular sentiment seems to be creeping into more Texas Panhandle residents’ conversation.

It is that the wind and the dirt that is blowing through the air is “the worst I’ve ever seen” in the Panhandle.

I heard it yet again this morning at church from a 60-something friend who’s lived here all her life. Others have made similar statements to me for the past several weeks as the wind just won’t relent.

Here and there folks are suggesting the wind that’s howling and the dirt that’s filling the air remind them of the bad old Dust Bowl days.

I won’t go that far. First of all, the Dust Bowl occurred 70-plus years ago. Second of all, the footage I’ve seen of events such as Black Sunday defy description.

Setting all that aside for a moment, let’s just consider that we’re likely in for a prolonged dry spell. Weather forecasters aren’t giving us much reason to believe a radical change in the weather is coming soon.

We’re in the grip of a drought that’s entering its fourth year. We had a slight break in 2012 from the lack of rainfall. So far this year, our precipitation level is about a third of what it’s supposed to be. Our winter snowfall was a good bit below normal. Lake levels are receding, streams are dry and grass used to feed our cattle is hard to find. Thus, ranchers are selling their cattle under weight because they cannot afford the high cost of grain to keep them fed.

It’s a mess out there.

What’s the lesson here? Two things come to mind.

First, we need to stop worrying about the wind, suck on some throat lozenges and perhaps say a prayer for more rain. Does prayer work? Well, someone has to prove to me it doesn’t. Absent that proof, I’ll keep asking for some divine intervention.

Second, cities need to start talking more proactively about water conservation. Amarillo is beginning such a conversation, but officials are saying mandatory restrictions aren’t yet on the table. I’m not so sure that’s necessarily a wise course to take in light of this drought. City Hall needs to start talking loudly and often about the need to conserve water and it ought to prepare immediately to enact a mandatory plan if we don’t get relief in, say, the next 30 days.

Meanwhile, batten everything down, folks.

Irony involved with water savings, rate boost

There’s a certain cruel irony at work in some Texas cities.

City officials are encouraging people to conserve water and are mandating it in some places. The results have been a reduction in revenue to pay for water and other utility infrastructure. What’s a city to do? Increase water rates.

What is wrong with this picture?


Amarillo hasn’t reached that fork in its road — yet. The city isn’t requiring people to water their lawns less during the spring, summer and early fall; nor has it put a ban on car-washing or running sprinklers so little children can cool off. It might do so down the road if this drought continues, as the National Weather Service thinks it will.

The Texas Tribune reports that Wichita Falls has become a victim of its own water-saving edict. “It’s tough to tell the consumer that ‘Yeah, well, you guys did a great job out there conserving water, but lo and behold, we got hurt financially, so we’ve got to raise your rates,’” assistant city manager Jim Dockery said.

Here’s how the Tribune is reporting other cities’ efforts to avoid the rate hikes: “Fort Worth’s goal, like that of many other cities in Texas, is to change its rate structure to avoid such ups and downs. Today, about 17 percent of the utility’s revenue comes from fixed monthly charges that all water customers pay regardless of how much they use; by 2018, (Fort Worth utility spokeswoman Mary) Gugliuzza said, 25 percent of its revenue will come from such charges. Dockery said Wichita Falls is considering a similar transition.”

My own take is that if the rate isn’t exorbitant, it should remain a small price to pay for continued water conservation.

This relentless drought is bound to cause some alarms to go off in the Panhandle, which is now relying exclusively on groundwater to quench its cities’ and towns’ thirst. The question is when. What’s more, when the alarm goes off and residents do what their cities tell them to do — use less water — how will cities respond to the accompanying loss of revenue?

Prop 6 looks like a water winner for state

Texas’ Legislature was kind to voters this election year by giving us “only” nine amendments to the Texas Constitution to consider.

One of them is of huge importance to the Panhandle. It’s Proposition 6, the “water amendment.”

I plan to vote for it.


Gov. Rick Perry’s column attached here tells us that the amendment would allow the state to tap into its Rainy Day Fund — which is a rather ironic twist, if you think about it — to develop water resources for the state.

Perry writes: “Our booming economy, rapidly growing population and the drought that has plagued most of the state for years are combining to stress our ability to meet our water demands. If we do nothing to address these needs, we place at risk the health and well-being of future generations.”

The Rainy Day Fund, Perry and other supporters note, won’t be imperiled. There will remain plenty of money left in the fund to use for other “emergencies.” By my way of thinking, I believe the state’s water shortage constitutes an emergency, particularly in regions of the state that have so little of it. That means the Panhandle.

Perry adds, “Because of our economic strength, the Rainy Day Fund has reached historic highs. Even with a one-time transfer of funds to address our water needs, we’ll still have an estimated $8.3 billion in reserve.”

Debra Medina, the tea party darling who ran for governor in 2010, opposes it. Her essay is attached here:


Of the two, Perry’s makes more sense. Proposition 6 is a reasonable approach to spending money the state has on hand to fend off actual emergencies.

A world without water? That constitutes a dire circumstance.

On the agenda at Amarillo 101: water

The more I think about it, the more I like the idea of being invited to attend an upcoming primer on Amarillo City Hall.

It’s going to last eight weeks and it will cover a lot of ground. I’ve seen the agenda for the next several weeks and I’m struck by the amount of time we’re going to spend on water issues — which for my money rank as the most critical long-term issue facing the city.

One session will take place at the Osage Water Treatment Plant. It’s going to cover water production, treatment and transmission, wastewater treatment, surface water treatment and the ever-important conservation program called “Every Drop Counts.”

I’ve toured the Osage plant. About two years ago, City Manager Jarrett Atkinson — no slouch on water management issues — and Utilities Director Emmitt Autrey took me on a comprehensive day-long tour of virtually the entire city water infrastructure. We looked at new wells under construction as well as the water treatment plant.

I was amazed then at how much water is processed each day. I can’t recite the amount at this moment, but the volume was simply staggering.

My hope during this early October session will be to get an answer to what I believe is the threshold question for the city: What circumstances would have to occur to require the city to mandate water conservation measures for every resident and business in Amarillo? A follow-up question would be: Are we getting close to that point?

The city’s water-rights-acquisition campaign has secured a lot of water for Amarillo. I keep hearing that we’re positioned well for the next 100 or so years. But then what?

I’m not inclined to spend too much time worrying beyond my own lifespan or even that of my kids and grandkids. The thought of Amarillo drying up because we weren’t far-sighted enough right now, however, does give me the nervous jerks.

I am hoping for some answers as to whether we’re looking that far into the future.