Unprecedented water shortage in Wichita Falls, Texas

The Texas Tribune published an article this week on extreme water shortages in Wichita Falls, Texas. Last month lake levels dropped significantly, prompting Stage 3 water restrictions, and the city is expected to implement Stage 4 restrictions by the time the summer heat arrives. Texas drought conditions have never been this severe for Wichita Falls to date.

In response, the Times Record News of Wichita Falls reported that the TCEQ estimate on when the city would run out of water does not depict the full story. Daniel Nix, the city public works operations manager says city leaders are required to report to TCEQ whenever Stage 2 restrictions are implemented – but the options available for classifying how much water remains are limited to water outages in 45, 90, or 180 days.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) maintains a list of public water systems that enforce restrictions on water uses. The TCEQ publishes information on drought severity for each water supply system on the list. Wichita Falls public water systems are listed at a stage of “concern,” meaning the city could run out of water in 180 days or less.

The Times Record News reports that if conservation efforts are not stepped up at all, the city would run out of water later than the 180 day mark but still sometime in 2014. The city of Wichita Falls has implemented a number of conservation efforts and water reuse plans. The city has also been working closely with TCEQ on the issue for several years now. A wastewater reuse treatment system is currently under construction that will produce drinking water through a multistep process of wastewater treatment. Planners are hoping that water conservation and potable reuse innovations will ease the water shortages.

As water shortages become increasingly severe, a number of bills related to water are working through the state legislature. House Bill 4 establishes how the Texas Water Development Board allocates funds secured from House Bill 11, which directs money from the economic stabilization fund toward water-related projects. The funds are intended to support conservation efforts as well as expand water infrastructure, including new desalination and wastewater plants.

The Texas Tribune has developed an interactive tool that provides an overview of progress on water related bills during the 83rd Texas Legislative Session. View it here.

environmental dataCarissa Ries

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