Area officials, however, keep mandatory water restrictions in place
Drought conditions are over—for now—in portions of the Dallas-Fort Worth area thanks to recent rainfall, but experts do not expect mandatory conservation efforts to lift anytime soon.
"What we've decided to do is take a wait-and-see approach to the Stage 1 drought restrictions and leave them in place until we can determine what the long-term weather predictions hold," said Mark Olson, conservation and creative manager for the Tarrant Regional Water District. "Lifting those really all depends on what kind of rainfall and runoff we see in the next couple of months."
Rain at last
After weeks of clear skies, Texas made a dramatic about-face during the winter with its December–January period ranking 11th wettest in the state's history, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
It was the first time that the state had recorded above-average precipitation two months in a row in nearly two years, and by the end of January, a pocket of North Texas communities had officially emerged from drought conditions for the first time since last summer.
Still, more than half the state is designated as experiencing severe, extreme or exceptional drought conditions, and experts say North Texas' reprieve may be brief. Climate Prediction Center maps show above-average temperatures for the region through September—and below-normal precipitation through the summer.
The three cities all started summer 2011 with watering restrictions in place. In Grapevine and Southlake, those restrictions—which make it illegal for system-based lawn watering between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. with few exceptions—are in place year-round. In Colleyville, they kick in each May and are guaranteed to last through Oct. 31.
Last year was the state's worst one-year drought since 1895, and the National Weather Service announced that Texas' June–August 2011 period was the hottest such span to date nationally.
By August of last year, Southlake had already called for Stage 1 watering restrictions for its residents and business owners. And Grapevine and Colleyville, though they had not reached sufficient scarcity levels to mandate Stage 1 restrictions at the local level, followed suit just weeks later when the Tarrant Regional Water District forced Stage 1 conditions on its users.
TRWD, which provides water to more than 1.7 million North Texas residents through 30 wholesale customers, looks at combined capacity at its four water reservoirs to determine whether customers need to begin Stage 1 regulations.
When Lake Bridgeport, Cedar Creek Reservoir, Eagle Mountain Lake and Richland-Chambers Reservoir drop below 75 percent capacity, the call goes out.
Stage 1 restrictions clamp down on outdoor watering, allowing residents to water only twice weekly using a schedule based on their address.
Grapevine and Southlake continue to adhere to TRWD's system, which allows houses with even-numbered addresses, including zero, to water on Wednesdays and Saturdays; odd-numbered addresses to water on Thursdays and Sundays; and businesses, parks and homeowners associations to water on Tuesdays and Fridays.
Colleyville divides its watering schedule according to three geographic areas. Zone A, which includes all homes north of Colleyville Boulevard and west of Pleasant Run Road, waters Tuesdays and Fridays; Zone B, including homes north of Glade Road and east of Pleasant Run Road, waters Wednesdays and Saturdays; and Zone C, including homes south of Glade and east of Colleyville Boulevard, waters Thursdays and Sundays.
Across the board, Monday serves as a renewal day for water sources—a necessary move, Olson said, when drought conditions are so extreme.
After revamping its conservation plan based on problems discovered during the 2005–2006 drought, 2011 was the first year that the water district mandated Stage 1 regulations for its customers.
"After we saw what was happening with our lakes [a few years ago], we realized the way our regulations were written, actions and measures that were going to be taken would have been implemented too little too late," Olson said. "So what we wanted to do was come up with a more proactive approach."
Strict regulations combined with unexpected rainfall have, to some degree, done the trick. At press time, capacity at the water district's four water sources had risen to a combined 82 percent. The water district needs to see more improvement, though, especially given that not all of its resources are out of the danger zone.
"Even though the immediate Dallas-Fort Worth area is technically out of a drought, we still have lakes that are not in this drought-free area," Olson said. "Those reservoirs—Cedar Creek and Richland-Chambers—are still more than four feet down each, and those are the two lakes we rely on for a majority of Tarrant County's water supply. About 80 percent of our water supply comes from those two."
In Tarrant County, resident water demand during the winter drops to about 40 percent of what it is during the summer, Olson said. That is good news for the water district, which is now seeking to stockpile as much water as it can in preparation for hotter temperatures, but it also offers a false sense of security in the supply. In short, reserves are up. But how long would they stay up if drought conditions returned to North Texas and temperatures began creeping back into the 90s?
"We don't want to go into a drought stage and come out just to go back in," Olson said. "We've concluded that terminating and reinitiating Stage 1 restrictions if conditions worsen again could be problematic and be confusing to the public. So we're just waiting like everyone else."
As local leaders worry about their resources, state leaders have been busy making plans for the resources of Texas. And they are looking beyond the coming months.
The Texas Water Development Board in mid-December completed work on a 2012 State Water Plan, a proactive approach of its own to look at deficiencies throughout the state, as well as conservation measures and economic losses anticipated as dry conditions continue. The 300-page document's primary message is simple.
"In serious drought conditions, Texas does not and will not have enough water to meet the needs of its people, its businesses, and its agricultural enterprises," the board's synopsis reads.
Tarrant County is grouped with all or part of 15 other counties in the state's plan, which labels the stretch from Cooke County in the north to Freestone County in the south, and Jack County on the west to Collin County on the east, as Region C. According to 2010 data, our region is home to 26 percent of Texans—and our needs are high.
By 2060, the region is projected to grow 96 percent to more than 13 million residents, and water demand is expected to rise by 86 percent. Meanwhile, the area's water supply is expected to diminish thanks to sedimentation in area lakes. The state's 2012 plan recommends adding four new major reservoirs in North Texas in the coming decades to account for the increased need.
"As the state continues to experience rapid growth and declining water supplies, implementation of the plan is crucial to ensure public health, safety, and welfare and economic development in the state," the report says.
The state's recommendations, however, do not come cheap. Estimated price tag? $21.5 billion. Until relief comes, Colleyville spokeswoman Mona Gandy says the message here in Tarrant County is short and sweet: "Conservation, conservation, conservation."