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Lake levels cause concern

Profile image for By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe
By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe

Lack of rainfall could force city to crack down on water use

Unless spring ramps up the rainfall, Denton residents could soon see their first drought-related watering restrictions since 2000.

Tim Fisher, deputy director for water, cautioned the City Council during a work session Tuesday that lake levels are low enough that the city could see the tougher restrictions before summer.

Denton came close to issuing such restrictions last summer, but a few late-summer rainstorms kept lake levels above the 65 percent storage capacity that triggers the restrictions.

This spring, levels at Lewisville Lake, where the city has 5 percent water rights, are at their lowest for this time of year in three years. The water level at Lewisville Lake stands at 514.03 acre-feet as of March 31, compared to 517.03 acre-feet in March 2013 and 523.21 acre-feet in March 2012, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

On average, area lakes are holding about 71 percent of storage capacity. Flooding rains in 2007 filled area lakes and have helped stave off watering restrictions for many years, Fisher said.

“We are in a moderate-to-severe drought, but the reservoirs are hanging in there,” Fisher said.

However, Stage 1 restrictions are likely this summer, which would limit outdoor watering to twice a week.

He updated the City Council during its workshop session Tuesday afternoon on steps the staff was taking to update the city’s water conservation plan and the drought management plan, which are due to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in May.

The city works to align its drought management plan with that of Dallas and other cities that draw from Ray Roberts, Lewisville and Grapevine lakes, Fisher said.

While Dallas limits people to watering on specific days to aid enforcement, Denton doesn’t plan on limiting outdoor watering based on addresses, Fisher said.

Such a restriction would take demand that would typically be spread out over seven days and compress it into four, he said. In addition, Denton’s demand on area lakes is dwarfed by that of Dallas and surrounding cities, that of 2.6 million people versus 120,000.

“We’re not going to manage lake levels by ourselves,” Fisher said.

Instead, the city would like to step up education and water audit efforts in order to get compliance with the twice-a-week restrictions, he said.

Many Denton homeowners are familiar with current water conservation efforts, which are different from drought management restrictions. To help conserve, the city asks residents to refrain from outdoor watering during the day in the summer. That simple restriction has helped the city for many years meet conservation goals that help keep infrastructure costs down, he said.

Last year, Denton residents used about 150 gallons per person per day, which is a little lower than the typical demand of about 163 gallons per person per day and much lower than the demand of residents in many nearby cities. For example, the average person in Frisco uses more than 250 gallons per day.

The state has made a goal of reducing demand to 140 gallons per person per day by 2050, Fisher said.

“Conservation is a big part of the state’s water plan and has been for about 10 years now,” Fisher said.

In addition, Denton’s per capita usage has been trending downward even as the city grows with new neighborhoods and new lawns, Fisher said.

Fisher credited the city’s water billing, which charges a little more for residents who use more water.

“It sends a message,” Fisher said.

The city staff is expected to make formal both the water conservation and drought plans in the coming weeks, with a public hearing on the matter planned for April 15.

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.