Water restrictions eased; conservation still vital, officials say

In a bit of a milestone for what has become historic drought conditions for West Texas and the immediate area, Big Spring City Council approved moving from Stage 3 of its drought contingency plan to Stage 2, switching from mandatory water restrictions to voluntary conservation efforts.According to Assistant City Manager Todd Darden, the Colorado River Municipal Water District — which distributes raw water to several West Texas cities, including Big Spring — has lifted its restrictions on supplied water.“We're probably one of the last cities coming to the council to have those restrictions lifted,” Darden said. “What we are doing is going to a voluntary stage. We're still asking customers to use for their watering schedules, which is primarily because of the (rehabilitation of) the water and wastewater facilities.“We still have limitations on our treatment and capacity. If these changes fall short of our goal for the demand the water treatment plan, then we'll come back to the council and look at a different direction at that time. I feel like we'll be able to attain our goal with these watering schedules.”The resolution moving from Stage 3 of the drought contingency plan to Stage 2 was accepted by the council on emergency reading, meaning it does not require a second reading to be enacted. District 1 Councilman Marcus Fernandez was unable to attend the meeting due to a scheduling conflict with his work.According to Darden, the shift from mandatory restrictions to voluntary restrictions means the city will no longer issue citations for misuse of water, however, the municipality will be looking at usage levels very closely.“Water customers are requested to voluntarily limit the irrigation of landscaped areas to Sundays and Thursdays for water customers with a street address ending in an even number,” Darden said. “Saturdays and Wednesdays will be for water customers with a street address ending in an odd number and to irrigate only between the hours of midnight until 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. and midnight on designated days.”“Irrigation of landscaped areas is permitted at any time if it is by means of a hand-held hose, a faucet-filled bucket or watering can of five gallons or less, or drip irrigation system. Also, water customers are requested to refrain from washing cars and to continue to practice water conservation and to minimize or discontinue water use for non-essential purposes. Wasting of water is still very much prohibited.”Mayor Tommy Duncan said the change from mandatory restrictions to relying on citizens' voluntary efforts shouldn't be a problem, at least from a historic perspective.“When we first went into the drought conditions, we received good results just by asking the citizens to voluntarily reduce (their water consumption),” Duncan said. “Not only that, we met all of those goals (set by CRMWD).”Darden agreed, saying the past summer's rather strict guidelines left a lasting impression on most city water customers.“I think once you've lived through mandatory water restrictions, it resonates with you a little bit more,” Darden said. “When you preach conservation — and we're going to preach conservation because we need to do what we can to preserve our water out here in West Texas and not be wasteful — I believe it has an effect. Conservation is going to remain at the forefront, as well as education of our customers as to the importance of our water supply.”While many area water customers may breathe a sigh of relief with the switch, Darden said residents should remain vigilant with their water usage.“This isn't the city of Big Spring coming out and announcing the end of the drought or that water conservation is no longer a major concern,” Darden said. “The truth of the matter is conservation is even more important now. Recent rains have helped, but two of our three water reservoirs are still less than 6 percent full, with Lake J.B. Thomas currently less than 1 percent of capacity.“The citizens of Big Spring have seen first hand just how quickly our water supply can become threatened. During the summer months evaporation takes an immense toll on our reservoirs and, without solid conservation on the part of our residents, we could end up right back where we were a few months ago.”