The Woodlands and Oak Ridge North have both issued mandatory water restrictions as the region approaches the hottest, driest summer months and water usage inevitably climbs.
The city of Oak Ridge North issued mandatory restrictions June 24 a few weeks after the city’s Water Well No. 3 went out of service. City Manager Vicky Rudy said the pump failed. It was slowing down and pieces were falling off. Replacing the pump could cost $265,000-$270,000 and may not be completed until August or September, leaving the city without one of its two primary pumps for the majority of the summer.
By implementing mandatory restrictions, Oak Ridge North can fine violators of the city’s odd-and-even watering schedule up to $2,000 per violation. The city also agreed to issue a surcharge to water users who use more than the family average of 10,000 gallons per month. Residents will be charged $5 per 1,000 gallons for every 1,000 gallons of water used over 10,000 gallons.
“If you use more than 10,000 gallons a month, your water bill is going to go up substantially,” Mayor Jim Kuykendall said. “If you’re wasting water, you’re going to have to pay for it until this crisis is over.”
With Water Well No. 2 pumping at capacity and likely unable to deal with the demand of the summer months, the city also agreed to use interconnected pipeline with the South Montgomery County Municipal Utility District. By opening the valve, the city’s water system will automatically borrow water from the MUD whenever the pressure provided by water users is greater than that provided by the city’s wells.
Susan Cates, economic development coordinator for Oak Ridge North, said the MUD has not decided how to charge the city for the borrowed water, but it may simply request the city provide water in return once Well No. 3 becomes operational again.
The Woodlands also faces mandatory restrictions. Jim Stinson, CEO of The Woodlands Joint Powers Agency, said a mandatory odd-and-even watering policy was approved in January, but the Municipal Utility Districts agreed to not enforce any fines until June 1.
The plan enforces surcharges for watering outside of the defined schedule, although only warnings had been issued as of mid-June.
“One of the primary factors [in implementing restrictions] is waste,” Stinson said. “We’ve got master gardeners, professional landscapers, professional turf growers telling us that native or local turf grasses require much less water than what we’re seeing our residents apply. During the hottest, driest conditions, one inch a week is adequate for a healthy lawn.”
About 465 million gallons of water were pumped in April in The Woodlands, Stinson said, down 21 percent from April 2012. May water usage was 593 million gallons, a 22 percent month-over-month decrease from 2012. Although June numbers were not available as of press time, Stinson said the peak day was 25.5 million gallons pumped through mid-June.
Stinson attributed the decrease in water usage to the rainfall and cooler temperatures in spring, but also to the restrictions.
He said water usage averages about 24 million gallons on watering days and about 18 million gallons on non-watering days.
“We know there are still those who have not embraced the program, and we hope to reach those folks and educate them and get them to understand the benefits of following this plan,” he said. “Watering less often encourages deeper root growth, which develops a healthier turf.”
Although residents are already under mandatory restrictions, Stinson said, the Drought Contingency Plan could enforce harsher restrictions if certain criteria are met. If water usage approaches 85 percent of capacity, Stinson said, the MUDs can restrict watering to one day a week. The number of operational water wells can also affect that capacity percentage, he said.
He could not make a prediction on the weather or possible future restrictions, but Stinson said he is pleased with what he is seeing.
Shenandoah City Administrator Greg Smith said he is also encouraged with his community’s water system and usage heading into the peak summer months. Smith said the community is not close to the capacity of its three wells, which pump about 2,800 gallons of water per minute.
The city’s water system has not had to implement restrictions in recent years, not even during the 2011 drought.
“Our water system has been robust enough to handle the pumpage without any restrictions,” Smith said. “Now, anything can happen. As we’re speaking here today, we could have a well go down, and we could be implementing water restrictions tomorrow.”