Change expected in lawn watering rules

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Restrictions would be part of Denton’s revised drought plan

New outdoor watering rules could start next month in Denton under a proposal headed to the City Council.

Residents and businesses could water lawns and landscapes no more than twice a week under Stage 1 of a revised city drought plan, which is expected to go to the council-appointed Public Utilities Board for review Monday. A council vote is set for Feb. 7.

City staff members want to enact the restrictions in mid-February but will discuss implementation dates with board members Monday, said Jim Coulter, water utilities director. The restrictions would affect Denton Water Utilities' 33,000 customers.

The city is revising its four-stage drought plan to more closely align with one in Dallas, where a mandatory outdoor watering schedule took effect last month. Dallas asked Denton to impose its own conservation measures, citing a 1985 wholesale water contract between the cities.

Denton and Dallas had followed similar drought plans for much of the past decade, partly because the cities share two water sources. The Dallas lake system includes Ray Roberts, Lewisville, Grapevine, Ray Hubbard, Tawakoni and Fork lakes. Denton draws its water from Ray Roberts and Lewisville lakes.

Various conditions can trigger the Dallas and Denton drought plans, including if the total lake system is depleted by more than 35 percent. The reservoirs were less than 25 percent depleted as of Jan. 5, the most recent measurement available.

Dallas implemented the plan because of other factors, including the need to sell water to area providers and construction at a treatment plant that will reduce supply this year, city officials have said.

Denton last implemented its drought plan in 2006. The city has never gone to mandatory watering limits but is pushing a more cautious approach to better protect water supplies in the event of an extended drought, said Tim Fisher, assistant water utilities director.

Citing the drought and other supply problems, the North Texas Municipal Water District enacted Stage 3 watering restrictions in November, limiting outdoor watering with sprinklers or irrigation systems to once every two weeks.

Drought conditions are expected to persist or intensify at least through April in most of Texas and neighboring states, according to a federal government forecast released Thursday.

Recent rains helped prevent further lake depletion but haven't substantially raised water levels, Fisher said.

"It takes a fair amount of rain just to get the moisture back in the soil," he said.

The changes in Denton would include a mandatory day-of-week watering schedule starting in Stage 1. Currently, the city's restrictions are mostly voluntary until Stage 3.

Under the proposal, watering would be limited to two days a week during the Stage 1 and once weekly in the second and third stages. No sprinklers or automatic irrigation systems would be allowed at Stage 3, when only hose watering would be permitted.

Also during Stage 1, the city could impose day-of-week watering schedules on golf courses, ask restaurants to serve water by request only, and encourage hotels and motels to ask patrons to reuse linens if staying multiple days.

At Stage 2, the city could begin restricting the use of water for ornamental fountains and for "recreational" use. To wash a car or trailer, people would have to use a handheld bucket or a hose equipped with a shutoff nozzle. Hosing off paved areas, buildings and windows wouldn't be allowed.

The restrictions would tighten even further under Stages 3 and 4, the emergency stage.

Fisher said the restrictions listed for each stage represented a "menu" of possible actions the city could take to reduce demand. The water utilities director would have discretion to decide which restrictions to impose, Fisher said.

Staff members were still tweaking the enforcement provisions, but they are expected to get stricter under the proposal.

After a single warning, violators could face fines ranging from $250 to $2,000 starting in Stage 1. Also, the city could charge higher water rates to customers who use more than 10,000 gallons per month during Stages 2 through 4. Repeat offenders could face disconnection and reconnection charges.

City Council members expressed general support for the changes during a discussion Jan. 10 but wanted to make sure the public was informed before new rules took effect. Mayor Mark Burroughs said he'd like to see a grace period of four months during which violators got warnings instead of fines.

The drought plan is separate from Denton's water conservation plan, which bans the watering of lawns and landscapes with sprinklers between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. from June 1 through Sept. 30.

LOWELL BROWN can be reached at 940-566-6882. His e-mail address is lmbrown@dentonrc.com.

IF YOU GO

What: Denton Public Utilities Board meeting

When: closed meeting at 9 a.m. Monday; open meeting following the closed meeting

Where: City Service Center, 901A Texas St.

Why: The open meeting agenda includes a discussion and vote on changes to the city's drought plan.


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