Drink In the City Council's Discussion on Conserving (And Selling) Dallas's Water Supply

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I was in the middle of watching the city council briefings on water conservation and the Stage 1 watering restrictions yesterday when I got pulled away -- and just when it was getting interesting too. So this morning I started going back to review the tape, beginning just as Sandy Greyson gets to the subject of water usage in our northern suburbs -- cities, she points out, "having problems with their water supply," which is why they're turning to a better-prepared Dallas for help.

That, though, was but the start of a fascinating, often uncomfortable conversation that reached its peak when Scott Griggs confronted Dallas Water Utilities Director Jody Puckett about water being used for gas drilling, then again when Griggs and City Manager Mary Suhm got into it over tougher water restrictions, which, as we've mentioned before, Griggs is all for. Suhm, though, doesn't think they're necessary -- not yet, at least, and perhaps not till well into the next year.

We pick it up with Greyson, as she says: "I went to a meeting yesterday ... and one of the questions I got at the end, one of the comments, was about unfettered growth and how everybody seems to want to grow. They want their city to grow, they want their region to grow, but maybe you don't have enough water. And one of the things that's happened to the north of us is those communities have grown enormously. That's one of the reasons that they are having problems. Now, I grant you they have zebra mussels in one of their lakes, [but] the whole idea of grow, grow, grow, grow and let's bring more people and let's have more growth when perhaps we don't have enough water to service all these people is one of the things we don't talk about."

And so they did talk about it -- this question of why growth is "this golden goal everyone has." Suhm said, hey, talk to the state. That wasn't good enough for Scott Griggs, who wants to look at building codes and "changes we need to make" to ensure that Dallas is "not a backstop for all our surrounding municipalities." Ann Margolin and Tennell Atkins said much the same thing. But, again, Suhm said: That's a state issue. "The state really owns the water and controls our behavior, so I would encourage all of you to have that conversation that the state needs to assume some responsibility for developing these kinds of things, absolutely."

After conversations about other topics -- sunken sidewalks around water meters from north to south, conservation, etc. -- Greyson asked the mulltimillion-dollar question: Do gas drillers in the region pay higher rates to buy water from the city for fracking, since each well "uses four to seven million gallons of water"? Puckett told her, no, gas-drilling companies pay regular posted rates.

Mayor Mike Rawlings chimed in, saying he met with state Rep. Allan Ritter, chair of the House Natural Resource Committee, about "the level of disciplinary in all the regions in regards to water usage. He heard that, and I think he believes that's the right thing to do. How that's done is an interesting, intergovernmental legal issue" not easily revolved. Rawlings also wants to deal with getting water from Oklahoma -- "a major issue."

At the 1:34 mark, Griggs asked Puckett if water's being sold from Dallas lakes to gas drillers? Puckett said, "We have one contract -- I can't remember the company it's with -- for the sale of water out of Lake Lewisville. I can't remember if it's expired or not." Suhm stopped her: "This is too important not to have the exact [information]." Griggs said it would be "irresponsible" to sell water for that purpose while we're imposing restrictions in the midst of a historic drought.

Then, at around the 1:57 mark -- shortly after Puckett spoke about potential sales of Dallas's water to Luminant, North Texas Municipal Water District (NTMWD), Irving and others -- Griggs asked her if Stage 1 is actually going to save a lot of water, since most folks go to twice-a-week watering during winter anyway.

"We will save some water," Puckett said. "Will we save 5 percent? Maybe not."

Griggs said: "Why wouldn't we want to be in Stage 2 now, over the winter," in case the normally rainy May turns to to be as dry as predicted. Suhm said she's being "conservative and thoughtful" and "getting the community prepared" by going to Stage 1. That wasn't good enough for Griggs, who insisted on going to Stage 2 because "people's habits over the winter" already correspond to Stage 1 restrictions.

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16 comments
King Neece
King Neece

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Water Quality Testing
Water Quality Testing

I like to consider breaks during the my day and look by way of some blogs to determine what others are talking about. Water supply is the provision of water by public utilities, commercial organisations, community endeavours or by individuals, usually via a system of pumps and pipes. Irrigation is covered separately.

SteveT
SteveT

Wlie H:

Dallas Water Utilities (DWU) is an enterprise fund--a government department that offers services for profit to those outside its jurisdiction.  DWU provides water to over twenty cities besides Dallas, most of them smaller suburbs like Addison, where I live.

SteveT
SteveT

The unstated assumption here is that economic growth as we've known it since WWII (with its attendant population increases, per capita resource use and waste--some of it polluting, most of it not reused) is our national religion.  However, with the depletion of finite and slow-to-replentish fundamental resources and destructive pollution, I think we are hitting the limits to our kind of growth.  To put it more simply:  How can we expect to experience infinite growth in a finite biosphere?

Wylie H.
Wylie H.

At the beginning (when she was trying to deflect criticism related to selling water to other jurisdictions), it seemed like Mary Suhm was implying that the state, rather than the City of Dallas, dictates the terms and conditions under which the City sells water to other jurisdictions. 

Later, however, she appears to contradict herself, saying that the City negotiates with other jurisdictions, and that she wants to retain control over that process. 

It would be interesting to know at what price the City is selling water to these other municipalities in comparison to what those other municipalities are charging to their own users and whether the current rates FULLY cover the cost of water infrastructure.

BigTex
BigTex

Many large properties drill their own water wells and dont use city water for irrigation. POW!

RC
RC

Go Scottie Go! This entire water issue and how gas drilling figures into the equation is a snake basket that 11 council members, 1 mayor, and 1 manager do not want opened.Only Griggs, Greyson, and Hunt are willing to open it up.

Augie
Augie

This is the biggest long term issue the region (and SW US) faces.  The thought of a deal with Oklahoma seems to be worthy, but, Tarrant County has been unsuccessfully trying to deal with them for years and recently lost both at Federal District Court and on Appeal the the 10th Circuit (Denver).  Some Oklahoman's want to sell water, but, deals with them are complex and they may or may not every work out. Example - Indians claim they own ALL of the water under treaties entered into in the 1800's - more court disputes.  A good percentage of folks think they wouldn't piss on Texas if it was on fire, so why in the world would they sell their water to us?  Others similarly minded think they need to keep the water in their State.  NO ONE in OK seems to view this issue rationally and enter into agreements to turn water they aren't using into cash.  Hell Tarrant County just wanted to collect waste water before it was discharged (lost forever) into the  Red River and quickly becomes too salty to use.  That is what the court fight was about and Tarrant County lost that fight.  So, you can't count on OK to help in the least and instead expect them to starve to death before accepting one cent of Texans money.  Really irrational folks and yet you have to try to deal with them.  

So, that leaves us with two options, more reservoirs and conservation.  New lakes are hard to push through and subject to years of court battles and Federal restrictions too. Still worth pursing of course.  The one thing we aren't doing and should be is changing zoning and building laws to require zeroscaping on ALL new construction. Surely Collin County should be doing this considering they are the ones with extremely scarce water supplies looking to Dallas to bail them out.  Encouraging zeroscaping (or some similar native plantings program) by offering anyone who take that option tax breaks, refunds, cheaper water, etc.  Changing all commercial zoning laws to prevent spraying sprinkler systems and thereby effectively requiring landscaping choices for much more water conserving plants.  Some places are doing this with success and the looks that can be achieved and still very nice and lush and use far less water.  This should be mandatory in commercial and city/government projects immediately and permanently.  

This issue is a ticking time bomb for us and I thank you for bringing it to the public's attention again.  

Fletch
Fletch

I must say that I like this Griggs fella.  He seems to be one of the few that seems to know what in the hell is going on.

Montemalone
Montemalone

Put the state in charge? Is she insane? Those are the same idiots that keep pushing the growth north! I'd tell Suhm to go jump in a lake, but the levels are so low wouldn't do any good.

Gangy
Gangy

SteveT, how can we expect to survive significant growth?

Oak Cliff Townie
Oak Cliff Townie

Regulations  will soon put an end to that. All wells are registered  Metered usage can't be far behind .

Thanks GOP and Governor Perry.

Daily Reader
Daily Reader

Waste not want not.  I don't think a few of the tribes in Oklahoma said they own all of the water but if I remember correctly, the dispute was in S - SW Oklahoma.  Not the entire state.

Oak Cliff Townie
Oak Cliff Townie

"I'd tell Suhm to go jump in a lake, but the levels are so low wouldn't do any good."

It will if you pick the  right bridge .

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