Crash Diet: How Dramatic Steps Cut McKinney's Water Use

Three years after a severe drought forced McKinney to put itself on a water diet, the city is using 30 percent less water per person.

Now the city gets calls from other Texas towns, wondering how it became more water-efficient.

The city passed tough water restrictions in 2006.

That summer, giant cracks were opening up in the ground in Collin County. Lake Lavon, the source of drinking water for much of the region, was starting to look more like a giant puddle.

McKinney officials feared there might not be enough water to supply the town. 

"With the population growth and that amount of water use, we would just run out," said Hal Cranor, the city's public works director.

McKinney's new restrictions prohibited residents from watering more than two days a week. As the drought eased, the city kept the restrictions in place year-round, even in the winter months when there's less strain on the system.

As the laws changed, attitudes started to change, too, town officials said.

"It was a great idea. I mean we have to do something to start," said McKinney resident Kenneth Phelps, who admitted that not everyone was quick to embrace the changes.

Today he uses less water, and the cost of his monthly water bills has evened out, Phelps said. He also used a city conservation program to install a "smart controller" on his sprinkler system.

Researchers at Texas A&M University have recently questioned the effectiveness of some smart controllers. But McKinney residents using the devices are allowed to water more than twice a week, the controllers are designed to adjust with the weather and save water.

Many McKinney homeowners have embraced the smart controllers, and the city said it's helping to contribute to conservation.

"I think we're doing a pretty good job of realizing this is not New England; this is Texas," Cranor said.

City officials said they guess McKinney won't be the only one following the same course in a few years.

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