Dallas Facing Water Problems If Drought Continues

Ongoing construction at the largest Dallas water plant will reduce the water supply available next summer compared to this year, Dallas Water Utilities Director Jody Puckett warned city leaders in a briefing this week.

If North Texas drought conditions and hot weather continue through next summer Dallas officials would impose water restrictions sooner to preserve enough supply to fight fires.

Puckett said the work will expand future capacity and meet regulatory requirements at the city’s East Side Water Treatment Plant in Sunnyvale.

“Some of the equipment there, switch gear, electrical things, are aged and they need to be replaced,” Puckett said.

Dallas has three water treatment plants.  The others are Bachman in Northwest Dallas and Elm Fork in Carrollton.

Currently Dallas can provide up to 900 million gallons of water a day from the lakes currently connected to those plants.

Peak demand this summer has reached 680 MGD but next summer the maximum capacity will only be 650 MGD.

“So when we hit 85 percent of that in our operation, that would indicate we’d have to go into restricted water use, in order to keep demand down, primarily so fires can be fought,” Puckett said.

Earlier this month the town of Kemp in Kaufman County lost running water because of the extreme heat and drought conditions.

“When they were losing water in their system, they couldn’t fight fires if they had one, and clearly when they had one, they couldn’t fight it,” Puckett said.

Unlike surrounding areas in Texas, the lakes that supply Dallas water are only 18 percent depleted. (See a complete list of North Texas Water Restrictions here)

Dallas imposes Stage 1 restrictions including a limit of twice-a-week lawn watering when supplies are 35 percent diminished.

Puckett estimates that won’t happen until June 2012 under current weather patterns but it could come sooner.

Or, cooler, wet weather could solve the supply problem completely. For now, Dallas is asking water customers to voluntarily reduce usage to help avoid problems.

The Dallas water system serves a total of 28 communities and about 2.5 million people. 

To provide for future growth Dallas plans expensive new pipelines to connect two more lakes to the system in the next few years.

Dallas has rights to water from Lake Fork and Lake Palestine, which are not yet being used.

The city plans water rate increases the next two years to pay for improvements.

City Manager Mary Suhm wants the council to approve a 6.9 percent water rate hike this fall.

Council Members are warning residents about water rate hikes in town hall budget meetings underway now around the city.

“The drought is with us and these are concerns of ours and that our infrastructure needs to be replaced and we really are going to have to expect these,” Council Member Linda Koop said.

“Water is going to be a huge commodity, we will have to continue to increase the rates,” said Council Member Delia Jasso.

In addition to these plans, Puckett said Dallas needs additional water supplies, to which it does not yet have rights, to meet long-range demand projections.

She said possible new reservoirs or connections to sources in Oklahoma are being considered and a briefing will be provided to the city council later this year.

“We’re in a much better situation than a lot of Texas and I think we’ve got to come to terms with some tough calls here in the next 16 months to make sure we set ourselves up for the next decades,” Mayor Mike Rawlings said.

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