Council refuses to concede on drought plan

June 21, 2014

HOLDING ON: Although the city of Granbury has been in Stage 2 water restrictions for about three years, tykes are still able to enjoy playing in sprinklers. But if the city goes into Stage 3, severe curtailing will occur, affecting such businesses as car washes and laundromats.

With the severe drought, home builders are between a rock and a hard place.

But some city officials believe rocks are preferable to grass at this point.

Granbury council member Tony Allen’s attempt to undo changes to the Drought Contingency Plan that he helped approve just last month got nowhere with the rest of the City Council Tuesday night.

At the end of a debate that lasted just over an hour, Allen was unable to convince his colleagues to grant extra watering privileges on new commercial and residential properties.

Allen said he fears that the restrictions, or being forced to pay heavy fines for violating those restrictions, could put builders out of business.

The amendment to the Drought Contingency Plan that was approved by a unanimous vote during the May 6 council meeting increased fines for repeat water violators from $100 to $500.

The city has been in Stage 2 water restrictions for about three years. In Stage 2, outside watering is allowed twice a week.

Public Works Director Alva Cox has stated several times that the city can very easily – and very quickly – be in Stage 3. Under those rules, there would be no outside watering or construction. There would be other severe restrictions as well.

According to Deputy Chief Alan Hines of the Granbury Police Department, no fines have been levied since the amendment was passed, but warnings have been issued. Fines will be imposed upon those who violate the ordinance a third time after receiving two warnings.

At the regular City Council meeting two weeks ago, two home builders told elected officials they will have difficulty selling new homes if they cannot water sod enough for grass to take root. The owner of a landscaping company also spoke.

Allen put the matter on the agenda again in hopes of bending the rules for new businesses and new residences.

At Tuesday night’s meeting, Allen acknowledged that he is a home builder.

“I do have two homes that I’m building myself in Catalina Bay. I’m partners with my son,” he said. “And my daughter-in-law is a builder in Abe’s Landing and all over.”

Allen asked City Attorney Stuart Neal for guidance regarding his own personal interests.

Neal replied that he saw no “conflict” since any action taken would affect the city as a whole and not just Allen personally.

CRITICAL DECISIONS

Allen initially wanted for those putting down sod to be able to water freely for 60 days.

At the council meeting on June 3 – and again at Tuesday night’s meeting – Cox warned the elected officials about the possible repercussions of going against the Drought Contingency Plan.

Cox gave details about how other cities are struggling under severe drought conditions, and he explained Granbury’s precarious water situation.

“We have to protect our resources,” he stated.

He added that Granbury rainfall is 8 inches below normal. The lake, he said, is “roughly 52 percent full.”

“We’re in extreme drought in Hood County. Actually, most of North Texas is – and we’re not getting any better,” he said. “We’re right in the middle of this drought, and it looks like it’s going to intensify for us.”

Adding to the problem is that people who once pumped water from the lake to irrigate their lawns are no longer able to do so, and are using city water instead.

Cox said that in 2007, the city had 4,100 water connections, with a 3.9 million gallon capacity.

The city now has 5,100 connections with the same capacity, he said.

“We’re not trying to pick on builders or put anybody out of business,” he said. “We’re trying to be fair – as fair as we can.

“One thing you have to understand is, if you open up Pandora’s Box … if we allow any exceptions, any of the other places outside city limits can do the same thing.”

Some residential areas that are outside the city limits use city water.

Council member Gary Couch suggested a compromise of allowing builders extra watering privileges for newly sodded front lawns if they agree to not sod backyards.

“Again, I keep going back to the plan,” Cox said. “The bottom line is, we’ve got to conserve water no matter what we do – and that’s the whole situation right now.”

EASING UP

Allen asked about landscaping for businesses, such as the new Marshalls and Ross Dress for Less stores that are being built near H-E-B.

Cox said that representatives for those companies are happy to conserve water by easing up on landscaping until the drought is over.

“They don’t want to have it all die, because then they have to replace it, by ordinance,” he explained.

As he did at the previous council meeting, Mayor Nin Hulett encouraged a move toward drought resistant landscaping, which he said is attractive and colorful.

“This is not going to go away,” he said of the water shortage. “This is Texas. This is a drought.”

The mayor stated that Stage 3 restrictions would apply to laundromats and car washes and could pose a serious threat to hospitals and firefighters.

Hulett also said that, according to his research, if sod is transplanted immediately, it needs only 7 to 10 days “of really good watering.” But he added:

“We’re not discussing a green lawn. We’re discussing saving our water.

“We won’t make it any better by relaxing (the rules) and letting people use more water than the Contingency Plan (allows).”

Council member Laurel Pirkle said that in the 1950s, severe water rationing “was an everyday occurrence in West Texas and North Texas.”

“There was no water, period,” he said. “Water is one of the most precious things.”

Council member Rose Myers stated that she, too, has done research and has spoken to officials in other towns affected by the drought.

“A lot of them are going to drought resistance lawns,” she said.

BOTTOM LINE

It was noted during the discussion that although Stage 2 watering allows for just two days a week of outside watering by sprinkler systems, hand watering is allowed on a daily basis. The rule, however, is that the hose cannot have a nozzle.

At the end of the lengthy discussion, Allen conceded to the mayor’s belief that if sod is handled carefully, adequate watering can be done in two weeks – not 60 days.

Allen made a motion to allow 14 days of watering for new lawns and landscaping at new properties, provided the city remains in Stage 2 water restrictions.

“Seven days to be established, an extra seven for the fun of it, then go to your regular two-day-a-week schedule,” he suggested.

Neal instructed that the motion would have to direct staff to draft a resolution amending the ordinance.

The resolution would have to come before the council for a vote at a future meeting.

It was also noted that any amendment approved by the council would have to go before the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) for approval.

Hulett said it could easily be August before a ruling would come from the TCEQ.

“I’m probably not going to get a second on it, so I’m not worried about it,” Allen said.

His motion did, in fact, die for lack of a second.

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