Plano's water conservation comes with a price

PLN-2015-05-01-1L1Thanks to ample rains, regional reservoirs like Lavon Lake are at full capacity and residents everywhere are taking notice. And for the first time since 2011, the North Texas Municipal Water District, which provides w
ater for cities throughout the region, has moved out of its drought restriction stages and into its normal water conservation plan.

The plan, which outlines the minimum guidelines for its member cities to follow, allows residents to water up to twice per week between the hours of 6 p.m. and 10 a.m.

During his update to the Plano City Council on April 27, NTMWD Executive Director Tom Kula emphasized the importance of conservation in North Texas, which he said would supply one-fourth of the region’s future water needs.

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“Water conservation is our new norm. It’s going to be vital as part of our water sources for the future to meet the needs of our region,” Kula said.

Plano residents saved 13 billion gallons of water over a period of 45 months between 2011 and 2015 and have reduced consumption by 15.5 percent through February 2015, Public Works Director Gerald Cosgrove said.

The city pays for 26.7 billion gallons of water annually, a rate that was set in 2001. Plano has not reached that usage level in a single year since 2006, Cosgrove said.

Plano is caught in the middle of emphasizing conservation efforts while paying for more water than it uses. This could lead to increased water rates in Plano as expenses
continue to outweigh revenues, Cosgrove said.

“If people conserve too much, we will have a deficit to pay the district,” he said.

Council members chose not to adopt the district’s plan into an enforceable ordinance at its April 27 meeting, but reaffirmed Plano’s water management plan, which calls for twice-a-week watering if needed.

“By putting this in ordinance form we are committed to doing this long-term, and we have some financial concerns about what impact it’s going to have on water and sewer [rates] and how that spills over into other funds,” Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Ben Harris said.

PLN-2015-05-01-1L2Paying for the future

Other talks between city leaders and the district have focused on how much water Plano pays for.

Under the NTMWD’s payment method, Plano continues to be the district’s largest customer, paying for a set 26.7 billion gallons annually. Set minimums help the district to provide infrastructure needed to meet that demand in the future.

“It’s the infrastructure that costs. That’s what we’ve had to plan for all these years,” Kula said. “We’re paying for the infrastructure to meet that 26 billion gallon need in the future.”

Any revision to the member city contract would require a unanimous vote from all 13 member cities [see graphic]. There could be grounds for a modification if Plano reaches that 26-billion-gallon mark again with current conservation methods in place, Kula said.

“We still have cities who like how that contract reads [in that] it gives benefits to those growing cities,” Kula said. “It’s a wait-and-see for right now.”

Factoring in the city’s expected growth coupled with existing conservation efforts, Cosgrove said he could not see Plano reaching the 26 billion gallon mark.

“I’s doubtful that we’ll [reach] the 26 billion gallon mark again,” he said. “We might get to 25 [billion gallons] but I doubt we’ll get much higher than that.”

City’s conservation comes with a price Source: city of Plano, North Tex[/caption]

Conservation and growth

The district’s short-term initiatives that are expected to supply enough water through at least 2040 include two major projects, the Trinity River Main Stem Pump Station to double the water flow into the wetlands and the construction of the Lower Bois d’Arc Creek Reservoir, which will be the first of its kind to be built in Texas in more than 30 years.

In order for the district to acquire the permits needed for the upcoming projects, member cities must demonstrate effective and collective conservation efforts through the district’s conservation plan, Kula said.

But current conservation methods are making it difficult for larger cities, such as Plano, Richardson and Garland to pay for the future, city officials say.

City leaders believe the minimum rate was set during a time when Plano was using more water than it is today. Since then local conservation efforts have evolved and have proven effective, Plano Mayor Harry LaRosiliere said.

While they understand the necessity of releasing water for flood control and decontamination, LaRosiliere and Council Member David Downs said they are still trying ascertain why Plano is paying for so much unused water. Council Member Pat Gallagher also expressed concerns over investing in the new reservoir, which carries a price tag of $992 million.

“Conservation is the new norm. I think that’s just the responsible way we should behave,” LaRosiliere said. “There’s a lot of discomfort in the fact that we want to do the right thing but the right thing is really costing us, and that’s where we really get emotional about it.”

Krista Wadsworth contributed to this report.


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