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News > City declares ‘drought disaster’
City declares ‘drought disaster’

Posted 11/12/2013   Updated 11/12/2013 Email story   Print story


by Tech. Sgt. Mike Meares
82nd Training Wing Public Affairs

11/12/2013 - SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- The lack of rain and unusually high temperatures for the past several years in Wichita Falls forced city officials to declare a stage 4 drought disaster.

City officials held a press conference Nov. 12 in the city council chambers where they described the current water drought as a "crisis" nothing short of a "natural disaster." The decrease in lake levels is the result of two years of rainfall totaling more than 24 inches below normal, and extreme temperatures of 150 days over 100 degrees

"Make no mistake, this is a crisis," said Darron Leiker, Wichita Falls city manager. "It's really nothing short of a natural disaster we're dealing with."

Lake Arrowhead measured 28.8 percent and Lake Kickapoo was at 33.3. The combined total was exactly 30 percent, the very threshold prompting the downgrading to Stage 4 restrictions.

"The city of Wichita Falls would typically see 28 days of 100-degree temperatures," Leiker said. "In 2011, we saw 100 days over 100 degrees. Think about that for a minute. That's over three months of over 100 degrees."

The city received only 13 inches of rain in 2011, less than half of the average rainfall of more than 28 inches. Subsequent years have produced similar results. He added without conservation efforts, through the efforts of citizens saving more than 2.2 billion gallons of water in 2013, Wichita Falls' water situation would be much worse.

At Sheppard, base civil engineers have been working since the Stage 3 drought emergency to reduce the water consumption of more than 15,000 people on base. When the city asked residents and base officials to reduce their water usage by 20 percent, base efforts reduced it more than 35 percent by installing eco-friendly latrine flushing systems and reduction in irrigation, as well as other conservation methods. The current water usage at Sheppard is in line with the new restrictions.

"We have been doing water reduction projects for some time now and have ongoing energy reduction projects as well," said Roberto Huezo, 82nd Civil Engineer Squadron operations officer. "I think it's everyone's responsibility. I personally do at home and I do it here on base too."

As the largest consumer of water in the region, base leaders have concentrated on reducing the impact of the drought on the city while maintain the mission to train Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors and Marines. As the largest employer in the city, it's only natural the base would use a lot of water, and have areas where they can reduce consumption.

"We have identified an area in civil engineer training that uses a lot of water," he said. "It has to do with reverse osmosis machines training. We have identified a potential project to use rain harvesting. We can then use rain water to replenish this lagoon they use as a holding area for training."

For the foreseeable future, all Stage 1, 2, and 3 water restrictions and requirements remain in place unless modified by Stage 4 restrictions and requirements. According to the official Wichita Falls city website, a Stage 4 Drought Disaster brings more strict restrictions and requirements.

-- Total ban on all outdoor irrigation and watering, no matter what type of hose or device.
-- A home foundation may be watered using only soaker hose, from 8 p.m. to midnight, on the designated day to water for the property.
-- It is unlawful to wash sidewalks, driveways or structures.
-- The surcharge triples for any amount of water used over ten units. The charge will be $3 per unit used over ten units. This charge increases as additional units are used.
-- All hydrant meters for contractor use will be pulled and service suspended until conditions return to a Drought Emergency status.
-- It shall be unlawful to irrigate any and all turf areas on golf courses including greens, tee boxes, and fairways using water from the City system. Sheppard Golf Course uses effluent water purchased from the city.
-- Large industries will be required to conduct an internal water audit to see if there are additional water conservation efforts they can undertake and submit a report to City Staff within 60 days. Changes must be implemented by the time combined lake levels reach 20 percent.
-- The City will continue an aggressive public relations and education program. Officials said there will be city employees out monitoring outdoor watering 24/7. Those who use a water well within city limits to water lawns and plants must have a sign in their yards indicating that.

Mankind can't change Mother Nature or have an effect on when, where and how much rain falls, but base and city officials can have an impact of how much water is taken from the city's reservoirs.

(John Ingle, Times Record News, contributed to this report)

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