During the hot summer months in Dallas, it is easy to take for granted the privilege of turning on the tap and having access to water. In reality, the process of getting water from hundreds of sources and congregating this water in the metroplex is incredibly complicated.
Dallas Water Utilities’ customers use over 300 million gallons of water daily, with demand often doubling as temperatures rise.
Much of the water that Dallas, Fort Worth, and other major Texas cities use is controlled in part by the Trinity River Authority (TRA) of Texas.
The organization, founded by an Act of the 54th Texas Legislature in 1955, oversees the Lake Livingston reservoir and Wolf Creek Park, as well as five wastewater treatment plants and four water treatment plants.
The Dallas Express spoke with J. Kevin Ward, the current General Manager of the TRA. “Much of the [water sources] for Dallas were developed after the drought of the fifties,” Ward explained.
These sources, including the Trinity River basin and neighboring Cedar Creek reservoir, are controlled by over five different entities. The U.S. Corp of Engineers, the Cities of Dallas and Fort Worth, and the Trinity River Authority all possess a piece of these water rights.
“Prior to the drought of the fifties and the population boom, Dallas got most of their water from groundwater,” Ward said. As more people moved into the area and the region became drier, Dallas was forced to search farther and farther for surface water sources to keep the taps flowing.
Ward continued to suggest that the system “has really proved to work … we’ve weathered a few droughts, and in all cases, the metroplex has been able to provide water to residents.”
However, according to Ward, each year provides new challenges for water providers.
He stated that the bout of rain in August did little to increase the local water supply because it fell in places that do not drain into the utilized reservoirs and basins.
“It didn’t really give us as big of a boost as we needed … we’ll go into stage one drought by December if we don’t get measurable rains by then,” he told The Dallas Express. Typically, fall to spring is the driest period for North Texas.
Residential households are the number one consumer of water in the DFW metroplex, and Ward emphasized the importance of each household practicing conservation measures.
Many of the emergency plans that the TRA had previously outlined were scrapped due to the effectiveness of resident-led conservation efforts, he said. These range from controlling the flow of showerheads and toilets to reduced watering of lawns and plants.
“All of these new methods are working,” Ward said. “The most important thing is to teach the schoolkids because the schoolkids will come home and teach their parents [how to] conserve water.”
Of the projected 1.3 million acre-feet* (around 424 billion gallons) of water demand in Dallas over the next 50 years, around 11% of that will come from conservation, he stated.
In addition to encouraging conservation, the TRA and other water planning entities are developing policies to prepare for drought emergencies.
“We’ve developed, for our region, 259 strategies to defend against drought,” Ward said.
The TRA pushed to add an extra year to the current drought plan, forcing providers to have enough water supply to last through six years of severe drought instead of five.
As experts predict water consumption to be roughly 1.3 million acre-feet over the next 50 years, water providers are forming plans to improve infrastructure and technology to produce at least 1.87 million acre-feet.
“If you think about the importance of the metroplex to the nation, being the economic powerhouse it is, we don’t want to see it suffer needlessly in drought due to a lack of planning,” Ward concluded.
*Acre-feet is a unit of volume equivalent to about 326,000 gallons of water. That is the amount of water that would cover an acre of land one foot deep.