Drink In the City Council's Discussion on Conserving (And Selling) Dallas's Water Supply

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I was in the middle of watching the city council briefings on water conservation and the Stage 1 watering restrictions yesterday when I got pulled away -- and just when it was getting interesting too. So this morning I started going back to review the tape, beginning just as Sandy Greyson gets to the subject of water usage in our northern suburbs -- cities, she points out, "having problems with their water supply," which is why they're turning to a better-prepared Dallas for help.

That, though, was but the start of a fascinating, often uncomfortable conversation that reached its peak when Scott Griggs confronted Dallas Water Utilities Director Jody Puckett about water being used for gas drilling, then again when Griggs and City Manager Mary Suhm got into it over tougher water restrictions, which, as we've mentioned before, Griggs is all for. Suhm, though, doesn't think they're necessary -- not yet, at least, and perhaps not till well into the next year.

We pick it up with Greyson, as she says: "I went to a meeting yesterday ... and one of the questions I got at the end, one of the comments, was about unfettered growth and how everybody seems to want to grow. They want their city to grow, they want their region to grow, but maybe you don't have enough water. And one of the things that's happened to the north of us is those communities have grown enormously. That's one of the reasons that they are having problems. Now, I grant you they have zebra mussels in one of their lakes, [but] the whole idea of grow, grow, grow, grow and let's bring more people and let's have more growth when perhaps we don't have enough water to service all these people is one of the things we don't talk about."

And so they did talk about it -- this question of why growth is "this golden goal everyone has." Suhm said, hey, talk to the state. That wasn't good enough for Scott Griggs, who wants to look at building codes and "changes we need to make" to ensure that Dallas is "not a backstop for all our surrounding municipalities." Ann Margolin and Tennell Atkins said much the same thing. But, again, Suhm said: That's a state issue. "The state really owns the water and controls our behavior, so I would encourage all of you to have that conversation that the state needs to assume some responsibility for developing these kinds of things, absolutely."

After conversations about other topics -- sunken sidewalks around water meters from north to south, conservation, etc. -- Greyson asked the mulltimillion-dollar question: Do gas drillers in the region pay higher rates to buy water from the city for fracking, since each well "uses four to seven million gallons of water"? Puckett told her, no, gas-drilling companies pay regular posted rates.

Mayor Mike Rawlings chimed in, saying he met with state Rep. Allan Ritter, chair of the House Natural Resource Committee, about "the level of disciplinary in all the regions in regards to water usage. He heard that, and I think he believes that's the right thing to do. How that's done is an interesting, intergovernmental legal issue" not easily revolved. Rawlings also wants to deal with getting water from Oklahoma -- "a major issue."

At the 1:34 mark, Griggs asked Puckett if water's being sold from Dallas lakes to gas drillers? Puckett said, "We have one contract -- I can't remember the company it's with -- for the sale of water out of Lake Lewisville. I can't remember if it's expired or not." Suhm stopped her: "This is too important not to have the exact [information]." Griggs said it would be "irresponsible" to sell water for that purpose while we're imposing restrictions in the midst of a historic drought.

Then, at around the 1:57 mark -- shortly after Puckett spoke about potential sales of Dallas's water to Luminant, North Texas Municipal Water District (NTMWD), Irving and others -- Griggs asked her if Stage 1 is actually going to save a lot of water, since most folks go to twice-a-week watering during winter anyway.

"We will save some water," Puckett said. "Will we save 5 percent? Maybe not."

Griggs said: "Why wouldn't we want to be in Stage 2 now, over the winter," in case the normally rainy May turns to to be as dry as predicted. Suhm said she's being "conservative and thoughtful" and "getting the community prepared" by going to Stage 1. That wasn't good enough for Griggs, who insisted on going to Stage 2 because "people's habits over the winter" already correspond to Stage 1 restrictions.

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