Friday, January 25, 2008

Let's Start Conserving our Liquid Future Before it's Too Late

Have you noticed that it’s stopped raining?

Okay… we’re getting a little drizzle this week. But just a year ago, as you may recall, we were months deep into one of the worst droughts in history. Lakes were at an all time low. Watering restrictions were imposed across the board, curtailing excess watering, car washing and pool filling. Most folks took these restrictions in stride, and many even went above and beyond to do their part to conserve.

Then it started to rain.

And it didn’t stop.

Between March and June, we got almost as much rain as in the entire previous twelve months. By June, the city council called off the alert and loosened up the restrictions. It was back to business as usual for most area residents. In fact, water usage rose from 139 gallons per capita per day (gpcd) in December 2006 to over 145 last month. And while total usage was down in 2007, we were gulping down 249 gpcd in 2006.

Why is that number significant? According to Mayoral Candidate Maher Maso, the state of Texas – who, by the way, controls the rights to all surface water in the state – has set a target consumption rate of 140 gpcd. Cities that consume more than this target, Mr. Maso continues, may find it difficult to get additional water from the state, regardless of how many new reservoirs they build. While we currently have enough water to meet the demands of our citizens, future growth is bound to put a strain on the supply, even in years with ample rain. So just finding new water sources isn’t the answer. We’ve got to cut back as well.

The other declared candidate for the city’s head office, Matt Lafata, takes a similar view on conservation. His plans include an advisory panel to help craft new water conservation efforts, and a regional approach to ensure the neighboring cities participate as well.

In the meantime, we should all remember the lessons we learned last year. Though we may have adopted them as part of the mandatory water restrictions, most are just a good idea, regardless of the amount of rain we get. The spring watering season is almost upon us (have we even had winter yet?). So here are some things to keep in mind.

Don’t water in the winter. The most common type of grass planted in North Texas is Bermuda. During the winter months, this variety goes dormant. It doesn’t grow. It doesn’t need water. If you’re like my neighbor – running your sprinklers year-round – you’re not only wasting water, you’re throwing away money!

Adjust your sprinklers. Once again, this is a matter of economics as much as ecology. If your sprinklers are pouring water in the streets, it’s not doing your lawn any good. So you’re basically buying water, then donating it to the City of Dallas (who owns the water that runs off of Frisco streets and into Lake Lewisville).

Cut down the watering times. According to Frisco’s Director of Public Works, Gary Hartwell, North Texas soil becomes saturated after about 6 or 7 minutes of watering. So if your sprinklers are running for 20 minutes at a time, chances are that about 60% of that is falling on water-soaked ground, running off into the streets and going to… that’s right… Dallas. I, too, once subscribed to the notion that deep watering promoted deep roots. But if you’ll pardon the pun, that theory just doesn’t hold water. Instead of running your system for 20 minutes once a day, run it three times for 7 minutes each. Your lawn (and your water district) will thank you.

Don’t water in the middle of the day. Particularly in the heat of the summer, you lose a significant amount to evaporation. Instead, run the sprinklers in the early morning hours.

Install an Evapotranspiration Controller. ET Controllers monitor the amount of rainfall and moisture in the air, and turn your sprinklers on or off as needed. Not only does this reduce your water usage (and cost) but you can qualify for a $100 rebate from the city.

Water management is going to be a major issue for all of North Texas (and most of the United States) in the years to come. Certainly this is one of the key factors that should be explored in the upcoming mayoral race. Which of the candidates is willing to take a hard line on water usage? Who is most qualified to set the right direction for Frisco’s water future? Hopefully we’ll have a normal amount of rainfall before the elections this May. But just because it rained some this week, don’t become complacent. Conservation is an activity. And we all need to act to protect this valuable natural resource.

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