U.S. Water News Online
EL PASO, Texas -- City councilors have sent a proposal to
severely limit lawn watering back to the drawing board despite
warnings that water shortages could hamper firefighting efforts this
Instead, most council members supported a rate structure that
would reward efficient users and punish water wasters.
``I'm really in favor of going to pricing rather than policing,''
said Rep. John Cook. ``I don't think we've given the voluntary
compliance approach enough time.''
Ed Archuleta, general manager of El Paso Water Utilities, told the
council that raising rates probably wouldn't save the needed amount
of water and wouldn't kick in quickly enough to head off shortages
predicted to start as early as April.
Some council members said they were concerned the restrictions
would give the city a bad reputation.
``I do not even favor the use of the word drought,'' said Rep. Dan
Powers. ``I think it's going to have a very serious effect on our
``I think we are in a very serious drought,'' Archuleta told the
council in a presentation before discussion of the proposal. ``I
think that is something that has not been adequately communicated.''
Archuleta warned the council that parts of the city could be
without water during peak demand times this summer if action isn't
taken. And he said low water pressure could hamper firefighting
The water restriction proposal included a limit of two hours of
lawn watering one day each week and a requirement that people using
evaporative coolers pinch off their overflow lines, used to wash away
An across-the-board rate increase of about 65 percent would be
necessary to get close to the needed water savings, Archuleta said.
Rates already were increased 10 percent in March and 6 percent last
year, he added.
Only one council member, Rep. Larry Medina, voted for the
proposal, which also was supported by Mayor Ray Caballero.
``This is a very wrong decision,'' Archuleta said after the
council vote. ``We've done all our technical work and there's only so
much groundwater we have.''
Wayne Treers, a hydraulic engineer with the federal Bureau of
Reclamation, said in an interview that the flow of the Rio Grande,
where El Paso gets more than a third of its water, is about 40
percent of normal.
``Things really aren't very good right now,'' Treers said. ``It
means we're going to have less water to allocate down here ... and
Treers said there is about 400,000 acre feet of water in Elephant
Butte Reservoir in New Mexico, which releases water for El Paso and
other users. However, most of it is owned by New Mexico and Colorado.
Meeting all water demands in southern New Mexico, Texas and Mexico
would require 790,000 acre feet, he said.
He said that even if snow is heavy for the rest of the winter in
Colorado and New Mexico, where the headwaters of the Rio Grande are
located, it doesn't mean El Paso will have enough water.
Because of a warm winter, much of the snowmelt is expected to soak
into the ground before it reaches Texas, he said. Treers said current
estimates are that river water users will get between 35 percent and
45 percent of the water they claim.
``I'm not expecting a miracle,'' he said.
Other cities in the region already have adopted strict water
regulations, including Denver, which has prohibited lawn watering
this summer, and Santa Fe, N.M., which limited lawn watering to once
a week and prohibited the filling of swimming pools.
Most of Texas will be short of water by about 2050, said Texas
Commissioner of Agriculture Susan Combs, adding that the growth of
cities is the main reason.
``Cities want water and the rural areas have it,'' Combs said,
pointing to cities in Texas that already are buying nearby land, or
condemning it if owners don't want to sell, to get the water rights.
``The things we've taken for granted like lawns, they just aren't
that high on the (list) when it comes to human drinking (water) and
livestock survival,'' she said.
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