Water conservation an issue in Dallas

Water conservation an issue in Dallas

by Staci Giordullo

Growing up in Louisiana during the 1950s, Jackie McElhaney was blissfully unaware of the severe drought plaguing Texas. That changed after she enrolled at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and discovered some of her classmates didn't know how to swim.

"Any pond they might have learned how to swim in had been dry their entire lives," she says. The drought, which lasted from 1950 to 1956, was the worst in state history, leaving 244 of the 254 counties federal disaster areas.

Such devastation spurred the building of dams and reservoirs as well as the creation of regular statewide water plans. Every five years, the Texas Water Development Board requires 16 regional planning groups to recommend water management strategies for each region.

The Dallas-Fort Worth area sits squarely in the center of Region C, which according to the 2007 State Water Plan will run out of water within 50 years if prevailing attitudes and actions don't change.

With the state population predicted to double to 45.6 million by 2060 and that of Region C to almost double to 13 million, projections indicate water demand will increase 87 percent.

Conservation could reduce that demand 28 percent, says Denise Hickey, public relations coordinator for the North Texas Municipal Water District. "It's not just in times of drought that we need to be conscious of our water resources," she says.

To crack down on residential waste, the Dallas City Council passed a water conservation ordinance in 2001 restricting lawn irrigation. Violators can be fined up to $2,000. Texans continue to live with drought conditions ranging from moderate to exceptional statewide.

Although current water levels for the Metroplex are fine, conservation remains an issue. The TWDB estimates the state can save 11.5 gallons of water per capita per day through what is known as "passive conservation."

This involves water savings through federal and state laws requiring plumbing manufacturers to sell only water-efficient fixtures to people seeking replacements or building new homes.

Combining such laws with active conservation will help reduce the demand on city water sources.

"Coupled with programs, incentives and a very aggressive public awareness campaign, we've put plans in place to ensure we have water through 2060," says Carole Davis, water conservation specialist for Dallas.

Some Angie's List members say conserving for the future isn't part of the American psyche.

"We're slaves to immediate gratification," says Jan Shelton of Fort Worth. "So what if something 'may' happen in 50 years. It isn't interesting - that is, until our faucets stop running. Then we'll want heads to roll."

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