It's no secret that water — or the lack of it — is a major topic of discussion in West Texas, and, as expected, that's what dominated the first installment of the State of the Community series Tuesday.
“Communication is a key issue in our community and I think we need to hear from these guys and know what is going on day to day with the entities in our county,” Jan Foresyth, Big Spring Area Chamber of Commerce president, said.
Representatives were on hand from the city of Big Spring, Howard County, Big Spring Economic Development and the Colorado River Municipal Water District.
John Grant, general manager of CRMWD, covered the topic on everyone's mind … water. Water has been provided by CRMWD since 1949 when only three cities were served: Odessa, Big Spring and Snyder. Today, the water district has 12 municipal customers, 14 major industrial customers and more than 300 rural users. Some water is sold to oil and gas industry as well. It is also responsible for all or part of the raw water needs of more than 500,000 users.
“We began to see the beginning of the current drought situation in the fall of 2008,” Grant said. “Now most people are classifying this as the worst drought in Texas history.”
According to Grant, the main water source comes from surface water, which typically provides for 100 percent of the district's needs. Three surface water sources are used by CRMWD: Lake J,B, Thomas, Lake E.V. Spence and Lake O.H. Ivie.
“We are still pumping out of Thomas to meet the needs of Snyder, even though it is just 1.1 percent full,” Grant said.
Lake Spence is less than 1 percent and O.H. Ivie is 17.7 percent full.
“We have just enough rain in the O.H. Ivie water shed that the water surface elevation today is about where it was the first of January. We are thankful for that,” Grant said.
Low lake levels and no water inflow have damaged water quality. Higher level of suspended solids and total dissolved solids have been seen, Grant said. The higher than normal temperatures and winds have put the level of evaporation higher than is has been.
“Over the past few years the district has spent well over $3 million to construct damns, floating barges, canals, channels and pipelines within lake basins in order to move water around so we can pump as much water as we can from the lakes,” Grant said. “We may have to ration customers on the capacity of our pipeline system and quantity of water remaining in the lake or both.
Water rationing occurred for the first time in the district's history in 2011 and restrictions will increase in April. The water delivery will be limited to just above winter time water limits to all customers.
“We made this decision to limit and save our surface water and make it last as long as we can. If we ration water and limit the amount of water to what is typically used in the months of December, January and February, we may be able to extend our surface water supply to an additional 90 to 120 days if we don't ration to winter time demands, our projection shows we will run out of surface water by January 2013,” Grant said.
In order to prepare for situations such as this, the district has been meeting with municipal customers since February 2010 to inform them of the drought situation and water rationing. Just enough inflow to the lakes stopped the rationing from occurring in 2010, according to Grant. Since Oct. 2010, monthly meetings have been taking place with municipal customers.
“We started looking at alternate water supplies in 2000 with no thought of the upcoming drought,” Grant said.
The water district is in the process of re-activating five wells in the Snyder area, which will provide half of the city's wintertime water use. This is in addition to the creation of the waste water and water treatment plant and the construction of water lines that will pump water from the Ward County water supply — which was purchased in 2010.