Friday , 18 August 2017

Lake Lavon is Full, so Why Do We Still Have Water Restrictions?

By Cindy Evans, TSB Contributor

Recent rains have filled or almost filled the lakes that supply our water, but Stage 3 water restrictions will likely remain in place for the forseeable future.

However, the North Texas Municipal Water District (NTMWD) announced Monday that it will hold a special board meeting Thursday night to vote on loosening water restrictions from Stage 3 enhanced — twice a month watering — to regular Stage 3 to allow for once-a-week watering starting April 1. If passed, it will be good news for those cities under the twice-a-month watering schedule. McKinney has maintained once-a-week watering, so our restrictions are not expected to change.

This loosening of restrictions is especially important to the nurseries, commercial growers, landscapers and others businesses whose livelihoods depend on the availability of water.  Many are small businesses for whom spring is the cornerstone of their annual income. These businesses contribute to the economic health of our region, and a “yes” vote on Thursday means much more to them that it does to us as homeowners.

The NTMWD also announced that it may begin releasing water from Lavon Lake, which is now about a foot above full. So why are there still watering restrictions when Lavon is overflowing?  Because, officials say, there is balancing act in providing enough water for businesses to thrive, but still promoting conservation as North Texas continues to grow.

I visited with Mike Rickman, Deputy Director, and Denise Hickey, Public Relations Coordinator at the NTMWD to explain the need for continued conservation.

Quick background:  McKinney gets its water from NTMWD, which gets water from Lake Lavon (now 108 percent full), Jim Chapman Lake (89 percent full) and Lake Tawakoni (98 percent full).  Another 28 percent of our water is from Lake Texoma, which is where the current problem lies.

The water from all these lakes is piped or flows into Lavon Lake, where the NTMWD pulls the water out, treats it and sends it to your shower.

To get water from Lake Texoma to Lavon, they pump it through a pipe for about 25 miles into Sister Creek, which flows the remaining 46 miles into Lavon. In 2009, zebra mussels were discovered in both Lake Texoma and Sister Creek.  =While this may sound like a “so what” to we suburbanites, zebra mussels are apparently quite a pest and best kept contained in Texoma. Apparently zebra mussels like to cling to boats, pipes, docks, everything. So in 2009, NTMWD was told they couldn’t pump any more Texoma water into Lavon (via Sister Creek) until there were no more zebra mussels. This mandate came from the Federal government.

So the only way to maintain access to the Texoma water was to pump it all the way to the water treatment plant at Lavon. Zebra mussels would be contained in the pipe and could be removed during water treatment. Sounds simple, right? Did I mention the federal and state government are involved, here?

Somewhere around the year 2,000, somebody decided Texas and Oklahoma had been fighting long enough about where the “real” border was on Lake Texoma. So a group called the Red River Compact got together and established a new, improved border. Unfortunately, the “new” border put several of NTMWD pumping stations in Oklahoma – which means now they are pumping Oklahoma water into Texas. Them’s fightin’ words.

The issue is further complicated by the fact that this new pipe would carry not only Oklahoma water, but an “invasive species” (zebra mussels) into Texas. 

According to Mr. Rickman, our state and federal representatives have been working with the water district these past 3 years to help get the pipeline approved, and if all goes according to plan, Texoma water will begin flowing to the NTMWD treatment facility by the end of next summer.

Remember, this is 28 percent of the water supply for this area, so … that, they say, is why we’re still on water restrictions.

Though with the rate of growth in North Texas far outpacing the likelihood that a new reservoir will be built in time to provide enough water for all these new neighbors, conservation is definitely here to stay.  Or as Ms. Hickey put it:  “conservation is definitely the new normal.”

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