DALLAS -- Water police don't have badges and they don't carry guns. But in the Dallas suburb of Plano, they carry cameras. City officials said a team of city employees is working around the clock patrolling neighborhoods looking for people who are violating the city's mandatory water conservation plan.
When they find a violator, the water police take a picture and leave a tag on the resident's door notifying them that they've been cited. Detachments of water police are marching out across North Texas to keep residents from using too much water. The streak of triple-digit weather and the lack of rain has left many cities in the region with strained water systems and parches conditions.
``We need to be serious about this because we don't want our water supply to not be there,'' said Mike Raplean, manager of Plano's Utility Operations. ``It would be our worst nightmare if a fire started and we didn't have enough water pressure.''
In Mesquite, another Dallas suburb, the duty of a water cop is to comb the neighborhoods in search of residents who haven't heard about water rationing and warn those who have that watering on the wrong day could mean paying a fine.
``It's really funny because you can see them dropping their hoses or turning off their water when they see us coming,'' said Ted Perez, who leads a team of six code enforcement officers in the Dallas suburb of Mesquite. He said most Mesquite residents have been observing the city's outdoor watering restrictions, which call for hand watering only two hours twice a week. No sprinklers allowed. City officials said the restrictions have made a difference in keeping the city's tanks from going dry.
Deputy City Manager Carol Zolnerowich said before imposing the watering rules, residents consumed about 40 million to 45 million gallons a day. She said consumption is down about 10 million gallons. ``Our citizens were using more water than what we were getting,'' she said. ``We had to come forward with a program that would give us an immediate reduction in water consumption.''
Zolnerowich said North Texas has an ample supply of water. The problem is the pipes that pump water from the reserves at the North Texas Municipal Water District to the cities cannot handle the demand.
Water systems in Central Texas also are strained by the heat. High water usage and evaporation have dropped the combined level of three lake near San Angelo to below 50,000 acre-feet. A year ago, those lakes held more than 85,000 acre- feet.
The San Angelo City Council has decided to limit residents to watering outdoors twice a week. Water officials said the city used more than a billion gallons last month. ``I would say that's the first time we've ever gone over a billion gallons in one month,'' Public Works Director Will Wilde told the San Angelo Standard-Times. The water police across North Texas said they understand that residents want to water their lawns, but the heat wave is making it impossible.
``We understand because we live in the city too,'' Perez said. ``My plants are dying and my garden is history, so I understand.''
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