Water restrictions expected to increase more than usual in Waco during drought

By Rebecca Fiedler
Staff Writer

Waco is in the middle of a drought. The city has not received more than an inch of rain on any day for the entire month of April, according to the Weather Channel’s website.

With a new drought ordinance for 2014 that’s based on higher water levels, city residents and businesses are more likely to have restricted water usage than in past years.

McLennan County is 7.2 inches beneath its normal rainwater level, said Rusty Garrett, chief weather anchor for KWTX. The Weather Channel site states that total rainfall in April was 4.58 inches.

“You could argue that it’s nearly as bad as it is in the western part of Texas,” Garrett said.

Garrett said April and May are typically the wettest months in the area, and it isn’t a good sign that the county is in a drought around the beginning of May. The drought conditions west of Interstate 35 are drastic, Garrett said.

“You talk to any rancher or farmer, and they’ll tell you that we desperately need rain,” he said.

Richard Heim of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration posted on the national drought monitoring website a map showing Central Texas to be in moderate to extreme stages of drought, the severity increasing from east to west in the county. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website also produced a map showing McLennan County to be in a region where drought will persist and intensify from April 17 to July 31.

Baylor landscaping is ready to face dry times, Baylor senior grounds manager Andy Trimble wrote in an email to the Lariat.

“With Baylor’s new evapotranspiration-based automated irrigation system, Baylor is applying technology and science to the irrigation of campus as opposed to the old ‘set-it-and-forget-it’ method of the past,” Trimble wrote. “This new smart system monitors the amount of water loss from the plant and soil surface and adjusts the water application to match what has been lost. It also monitors for leaks in the system to further control waste.”

Trimble said high levels of drought would affect Baylor negatively.

“If water outputs were cut severely, it would without a doubt affect the appearance across campus,” he said in the email. “However, with our new system and the ability to monitor our water application, we may have options to collaborate with the city as has been done in other Texas cities to maximize flexibility with regards to irrigation. With the flexibility the new system offers, we can target specific areas to maintain the ‘Baylor Look.’”

On April 1, the city of Waco made numerous unscheduled changes to the city’s drought ordinance; a document which outlines how citizens and businesses will be instructed to use water in times of drought. Normally the city would make regular updates to the ordinance every five years, such as 2000, 2005, 2010, 2015, etc.

“We really just needed to simplify it,” said Jonathan Echols, public relations coordinator of the city’s water utility services, Jonathan. “We felt like there were some things that had been made too complicated and it was hard to understand.”

Drought ordinances for cities list different stages of drought. Stage one indicates a more minor level of drought, and the urgency of the need to conserve water increases with stage two, threeand four.

Originally the Waco drought ordinance had six stages of drought, and now it has been reduced to four.
Waco is hardly ever at high stages of drought, Echols said. The city went to stage two in 2011, but that is the furthest Waco has ever gone.

A lot of cities and counties have a stage one that is a drought warning or watch and means little to nothing, Echols said. The city of Waco wants stage one to mean something to people now, he said. In the past, stage one restrictions weren’t mandatory for Wacoans, but now they are.

Stages of drought are all now based on higher levels of water in the city’s reservoir, meaning it would take less of a water shortage to declare a drought stage.

“We wanted to strengthen the whole plan a little bit,” Echols said. “We wanted to cause stages of the plan to happen a little bit sooner than they would before. It gives us more protection with the water than we had before. Essentially we would start having restrictions at a higher water level. It gives us more safety and assurance that we’re going to have water in a drought or emergency.”

The city also has more flexibility to issue a drought call based on weather, Echols said.

He said the way the city would enforce this ordinance is not clear.

“Rarely this would happen, but someone will call in and say ‘hey my neighbor is watering at the wrong time,’” Echols said. “Then someone from the city might come by and see if that was necessarily true.”

A police officer could also drive around and notice if someone is using too much water, Echols said.
“We’ve never really had that situation, so that would be a new thing, so that’s typically how it happens,” he said.

Echols said there are multiple ways to notify the public when a stage of drought has been declared.
“We notify people through the media, so it will be on the news and in the newspaper and all that stuff,” he said. “We’ll post it on the website. We really haven’t done it hardly at all. At this point we would send it out on Facebook and Twitter. We would basically be posting it any way we could.”