Texas Reservoirs Strained, Not Drained Despite Drought


Spillway of Denison Dam | Image by Shutterstock

Water use continues to break records, but the reservoirs will not dry up any time soon; other infrastructure, however, is breaking under the pressure of increased demand.

As most of Texas endured another drought, conditions became so dangerous that on July 8, Gov. Abbott declared a state of emergency in several counties, including Tarrant. Abbott cited an increased likelihood of wildfires and the threat of damage or loss of life or property.

Because Texas undertook conservation efforts following the 2010-2015 drought, this rain-free streak will not cause North Texas to enact Stage 1 restrictions until mid-to-late September, according to projections from Water Resource Director Rachel Ickert of the Tarrant Regional Water District (TRWD).

Stage 1 restrictions limit hosing off driveways and sidewalks and relegate landscape watering to just a couple of days weekly. Many cities made these conservation measures permanent even when last decade’s drought ended.

Nevertheless, Ickert estimated that conservation had saved the areas serviced by TWRD 20 billion gallons of water every year.

“Not knowing how long it [the drought] will last, our system should be robust to get us through several years of this,” she projected.

In late June, TRWD reported that its reservoirs were 88% full. Their capacity dropped to 82% by August 3, but the North Texas Municipal Water District (NTMWD) was more than 85% full, according to recent numbers from CBS DFW.

Some communities are under Stage 1 restrictions because demand is putting a strain on water systems; the pipes can only transport so much water at a time, and authorities are having trouble keeping up with the sheer demand.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality lists several Texas communities reporting shortages, but only one was in Tarrant County.

Mary Gugliuzza, City of Fort Worth Water Department spokeswoman, said July water use topped 10.7 billion gallons, an all-time monthly record last set in August 2011. On at least one occasion, pumps distributed water through the system at a breakneck rate of 580 million gallons per hour, data indicated.

With high temperatures and dry ground, water moving at such a rate led to equipment breakdowns.

“We’re having to run pumps more, which can put more pressure on pipelines; it increases pressure and flow rates,” Gugliuzza explained. Fort Worth alone dealt with 232 main breaks in July, breaking a record set in August 2011.

Dallas Water Utilities is also experiencing the strain of a 75% increase in demand from July last year, threatening the stability of their distribution infrastructure.

“The increased water usage puts additional pressure on water pipelines and can lead to more water main breaks and leaks,” warned Estela Ornelas, a Dallas Water Utilities spokeswoman.

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