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Fort Worth council steps back from permanent water restrictions

By Scott Nishimura
snishimura@bizpress.net

Fort Worth City Council members stepped back Tuesday night from making temporary twice-a-week watering restrictions permanent, with five members saying they wanted to study the issue for another week.

Council members voted 5-4 Tuesday night to continue the matter. Mayor Betsy Price and members Dennis Shingleton, Joel Burns and San Espino voted against the motion.

Representatives of the Tarrant Regional Water District and Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce spoke in favor of permanent restrictions, arguing permanent measures must be put into place to help preserve water for future generations in the fast-growing city and to ensure scarce supplies don’t become a hindrance to the economic development of the region.

But a large group of residents showed up in opposition to permanent water restrictions, arguing against government’s over-imposition. The city put the temporary restrictions into place last June.

One, longtime businessman Blake Woodard even put up his own proposal that would give residents greater flexibility in choosing which days to water.

“I think the jury is still out,” Council member Gyna Bivens said before the council vote.

Price pointed out the city has problems with shortening water supply and rising costs. Expensive pipelines and conservation are the only two ways to deal with the issue, she said.

“Two separate polls have revealed 70 percent (citizen) support” for permanent twice-a-week restrictions, she said before the council voted. “People have been used to it. I’m not sure what question we would answer with a delay. We have to get serious about conservation. People are in the habit now. Most of them support it.”

Earlier in the afternoon, at the council’s “pre-council meeting,” Mayor Pro Tem W.B. “Zim” Zimmerman floated the possibility he would ask for a two-month continuance.

In speaking before other members at the night meeting, Zimmerman said he wasn’t able to gather support.

He argued the polls were faulty, saying they didn’t do enough to ascertain whether the respondents had irrigation systems. Ownership of an irrigation system might predispose a water user to viewing restrictions as less burdensome, Zimmerman said.

Zimmerman also said the city doesn’t have the resources to enforce permanent restrictions.

“Who’s going to enforce it?” he said. “Not code. Our code officers can’t handle the stuff going on they’ve got now. It’s neighbors against neighbors.”

“I am not opposed to water conservation; I am opposed to it not being an educated process, but a dictated process,” he added.

Espino made the first motion, to make the temporary restrictions permanent.

Councilman Jungus Jordan then made a substitute motion for the one-week continuance, saying he wanted to compare the staff recommendations to the plan presented by Woodard.

Zimmerman, Jordan, Bivens, and members Kelly Allen Gray, and Danny Scarth voted for the continuance.

“This is one of those issues where some of my friends support the document, and some of my friends oppose the document, and I agree with my friends,” Jordan said before making his motion.

The city faces a May 1 deadline to file an update of its drought and conservation plan as required every five years to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Through conservation, Fort Worth has been able to put off water infrastructure projects that would cost the city millions of dollars in annual financing costs today, Kara Shuror, assistant water director for business services, told the council during a recent discussion. Rates would be higher than they are today, she said.

In 2013, the city, which has been adding 16,000 residents each year, saved more than 31 billion gallons of water through twice-a-week watering, staff members estimate.

Woodard questioned that contention, saying consistent rains last year may have had more to do with the savings and arguing that water users will conserve on their own, to save money.

“That’s what saves you the water, not telling people it’s Wednesday, don’t water,” said Woodard, who drew applause when he finished his presentation.

Former Councilman Clyde Picht also spoke, saying he was in favor of conservation but against the ordinance change.

“Conservation does work, and people will respond in a true water emergency,” he said.

Fort Worth’s water customers should still expect to see their water rates continue to rise, Price said in a message this week on the city’s web site.

The council will next vote on water rates in its 2014-2015 fiscal year budget this summer and has struggled over the issue in recent years’ budget votes.

“With or without conservation, water rates will rise in the near term to catch up with growth,” Price said in her message. “However, by making conservation permanent, there will be a light at the end of the tunnel. With proper conservation, rates will begin to plateau as demand drops.”

Under Fort Worth’s temporary water restrictions, implemented June 3:

Watering at non-residential sites is allowed Tuesdays and Fridays.

Watering at residential addresses ending in 0, 2, 4, 6 and 8 is allowed Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Watering at residential addresses ending in 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9 is allowed Thursdays and Sundays.

Watering with a soaker hose, drip irrigation, or hand-held hose is allowed at any time.

Watering with irrigation systems and sprinklers is barred between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.

Watering of hard surfaces and during rain is barred, and water waste through runoff, missing, or misaligned or broken sprinkler heads is prohibited.

Foundations may be watered up to two hours per day, using hose or drip irrigation placed with 24 inches of the foundation.

Washing of motorized vehicles is limited to use of a hand-held bucket or hose equipped with positive-pressure shutoff nozzle.

Vehicle washing may be done at any time at commercial car washes and service stations.

Hosing of buildings and other structures for purposes other than fire protection or surface preparation for painting is prohibited.

 

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