Plano, water district enter second summer without watering restrictions

Providing WaterAmple rains have graced the North Texas region over the past two years, which has enabled lake levels to remain relatively full and is expected to keep the North Texas Municipal Water District, which includes Plano, out of a summer drought for the second straight year.

After almost five years of enforcing drought restrictions, the North Texas Municipal Water District eased its watering limitations last May. The agency transitioned the district as a whole to its twice-a-week watering conservation plan.

The water district’s member cities have now been without water restrictions for an entire year. The last time the district was free of any water restrictions was in 2007.

“Water conservation has been very effective. [Twice-a-week watering] is the new norm, not only in our district but across the Metroplex as a whole,” said Denise Hickey,water resource program and public education manager for the NTMWD. “A quarter of our future water supplies will come from conservation efforts. The awareness ... is going to be emphasized, and you will see—as we’re already doing now—a lot of education and providing tips and resources to help educate homeowners on what they can do to use water wisely and efficiently.”

Despite an easing of drought conditions, the district is looking to the future, when existing water supplies—no matter if there is ample rainfall—will not be enough to supply the rapidly growing district.

A key part of the district’s plan to supply that future need is to get final approval for the Lower Bois d’Arc Creek Reservoir so it can have the project completed by 2021.

Plano’s conservation efforts

Plano’s water conservation guidelines—the guidelines the city follows when not under water restrictions—allow watering twice a week but only as needed. In contrast, the first level of drought restrictions allows watering only once a week as needed during the summer months.

Unlike water restrictions that are enforced or lifted depending on rainfall, Plano’s water conservation guidelines stay in place year-round.

Although mandatory drought restrictions that help the region save water in the short term, Plano’s water conservation program focuses on how cities can help manage the regional supply in the long term, said Abby Owens, sustainability and environmental education supervisor for the city of Plano.

Water restrictions—and, to a larger degree, conservation—have helped Plano keep its usage levels low, Owens said. Regular conservation efforts began in Plano around 2000, she said.

“This is the first time we can compare this year and last year’s [water usage]. Last summer, compared to our usage in 2010 and in previous years, we saw a significant decrease [in water usage]," Owens said. "That goes to show that­—even without restrictions—how much we are able to save.”

“We’ve played by the rules, but North Texans are out of time.”

—U.S. Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Plano

Planning for the future

The NTMWD is working on its largest project to date in the Lower Bois d’Arc Creek Reservoir. The district has been planning the reservoir for more than a decade and has invested more than $122 million in its construction.

Located in Fannin County, the new reservoir is a critical component for the North Texas region’s long-term water supply, according to the NTMWD. The additional water source needs to be online by 2021 in order to meet growing demand. The number of people served by the water district is expected to more than double in size by 2070, according to the district.

The new source will also enable the district to maximize its existing water supplies, according the NTMWD.

Delays in beginning construction on the reservoir arose in 2008 from efforts to obtain a Clean Water Act, or 404, permit from the Environmental Protection Agency. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the EPA submitted an impact statement to the district asking for additional environmental studies using an assessment model that has not yet been fully developed, NTMWD spokesperson Janet Rummel said.

Fulfilling these requests would mean a one- to two-year delay and an estimated $17 million increase in construction costs, she said. The district is working with the agencies to get the permit no later than July 2017. The district had planned to begin construction in 2015.

A growing water district population

“With recent years of extended drought as well as significant growth in our region, we can’t afford to delay this critical source any longer,” Rummel said. “Our goal is to compress the permitting and construction schedule as much as possible.”

In February, U.S. Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Plano, introduced House Resolution 4466, or the North Texas Reservoir Approval Act, in an effort to advance the project by exempting it from the Clean Water Act. It was co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, and U.S. Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Heath. The bill was assigned to a congressional committee Feb. 4, which will consider it before possibly sending it on to the House or Senate as a whole.

At a Feb. 3 Texas Water Day event in Austin, Johnson said North Texas will soon find itself having more residents than existing water resources can support.

“This reservoir would provide water for our community for years to come. However, the EPA has not been willing to play ball,” Johnson said. “We’ve played by the rules, but North Texans are out of time.”

The NTMWD purchased about 15,000 acres in Fannin County solely for mitigation, which includes replacing trees, plants and wetlands.

The district said it plans to turn the newly forested area over to the National Forestry Service so it may be used as a public park.

“Even though we do not have the required permit from the federal government, our state permit has very similar requirements,” NTMWD Deputy Director Mike Rickman said. “There are a lot of provisions still in place that the district will still comply with. It’s just a matter of paper [for the 404 permit].”