Water woes call for continued conservation

When Flower Mound, Lantana and other North Texas communities enact watering restrictions during the winter, it’s a sign of how bad the Texas drought has become.

And though the rains of recent weeks have helped, much more rain is needed, said Kevin Mercer, Lantana general manager and representative to the board of the Upper Trinity Regional Water district, which supplies water to communities throughout Denton and Collin counties.

“Fortunately, the recent rains did help our area reservoirs significantly, but that doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods with this drought yet,” Mercer said in early February. “It would take a couple more events of that magnitude for our reservoirs to fully recover.”

Water utilities such as Upper Trinity usually aren’t stressed during the winter months, he said.

“Winter is much easier for water utility providers, because your demand is down so much,” he said.

“The majority of the water we sell is for irrigation purposes. Our flows in the wintertime are less than a third of what they peak at in the summertime.”

But levels at the three reservoirs from which Upper Trinity gets water – Jim Chapman/Cooper Lake, Lake Lewisville and Lake Ray Roberts – have dropped so low that late January’s torrential rains couldn’t completely fix them.

Lake Chapman, which had been down over 12 feet, recovered to 432.43 feet, Mercer said. That’s still more than seven feet below the reservoir’s “conservation pool,” or volume of water used to meet municipal, commercial, agricultural and recreational needs.

Lake Lewisville was 1.64 feet low, and Lake Roberts was down 2.09 feet. Still, Lake Lewisville had been down five to six feet, Mercer said.

The situation at Lake Chapman was becoming particularly critical, Mercer said, because the intake in that reservoir is not at the lake’s deepest point.

“We were getting to near all the water we could reach,” he said, and plans were in place to put a floating pumping station on the lake to bring water past a natural silt berm near the intake in order to access deeper water. Mercer said that eventually will be done.

“We still need to think about a permanent solution to get at all that water in Lake Chapman,” he said.

“The reason that’s so important is because Lake Chapman is the cheapest source of water to Upper Trinity from all sources.”

Meanwhile, the recent rains had Flower Mound reconsidering its Stage 1 water restrictions, in which residents are banned from watering between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. and asked to voluntarily reduce watering to three days per week designated by their street address.

Molly Fox of the town’s community affairs department said the restrictions were enacted on Dec. 19.

“We have never had to enact any kind of water restrictions during the winter months,” she said.

Because some of Upper Trinity’s water is purchased from Dallas Water Utilities, a sort of domino effect can happen when Dallas is retrieving less water. In times of shortage, Dallas will recommend restrictions to Upper Trinity, which in turn recommends restrictions to its municipal customers.

“Right now, no one is lifting their watering restrictions, so we will evaluate that when the time comes,” Fox said. She said the Dallas City Council may extend its own city’s restrictions to June 1.

Texas’ epic drought has entered its sixth year. The longest drought in the state’s history lasted from 1950 to 1957.

“Basically, the drought is over when your lakes are completely full,” Mercer said. “And then the moment they drop down is the start of your next drought.”

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