DALLAS — The city of Dallas doesn’t have a water problem; it has a water storage problem.
On May 24, the city of Dallas passed an ordinance revising its city code to allow the city manager to declare drought conditions earlier out of fear a dry March and April will leave the city without enough stored water to serve its residents this summer.
The ordinance went into effect immediately, and drought conditions could be declared as soon as this week. Dallas’ water storage facility Mercer Reservoir holds 405 million gallons of water, about 120 days of water under typical summer water demand. The city estimates that water will stop spilling over the top of the dam at the beginning of this month, meaning the clock will start ticking on the 120 days soon, if it hasn’t already.
Rain, at least rain sufficient to start feeding the reservoir again, won’t return until mid-November, leaving the city well short of water if typical use isn’t reduced. The city will do its own part by not watering its parks – and asking other big water users to do the same. Irrigations of parks and playing fields accounts for about 400,000 gallons of water per day during the summer, according to the city.
The water shed from which the city draws its water collects enough water to provide about 25 times the water the city can currently store, said City Manager Brian Latta.
“Our supply is tremendous; the ability to hold it is a problem,” Latta said. “We have a water problem in Dallas, and there’s a solution which is add storage capacity.”
The city doesn’t need 24 more reservoirs, Latta said. Just one would be sufficient to avoid the need to use curtailment measures — once the reservoir is built.
“We are looking at building a new second reservoir in the same watershed,” Latta said. “There’s been a lot of background and investigative work into different sites.”
The city completed a study looking at potential sites, which was narrowed down to two. One is an in-stream reservoir and the other is an off-channel site. Depending on the location, the off-channel site would require the water to be pumped to the site and then gravity fed to the treatment plant or vice versa.
“Our engineers will be further investigating into those two sites and giving a recommendation to the city council on which one they feel is best and having the council make that decision,” Latta said. “Once we have that decision, we know where that reservoir is, we have pretty good confidence on what we need to do to construct that, to make it happen, and how much it is going to cost.”
That work should be complete before the end of this year.
Paying for the project will require a combination of different funding options, including rate increases, a bond measure requiring voter approval and water system development charges (SDCs). System development charges are fees collected on new development. The purpose of SDCs is to pay system expansion required when development occurs. Cities collect SDCs for all infrastructure systems, including water, sewer, streets and parks.
“The water fund has a good amount of water SDCs available to it. Not enough to pay for a project of this scale, which is why you would have to look at a combination of financing to make that happen,” Latta said. “We also wouldn’t want to put all of our SDCs into this project when we need it for other capacity-building water projects.”
Dallas also made a property purchase recently to expand it after-treatment, or finished water, storage. In August 2020, the city brought a piece of land on which to build a water storage tank.
“The land we purchased off James Howe Road, that would be build a new, likely above-ground water tank that would hold one million to two million gallons of storage,” Latta said. “That enables us to do is keep up with the growth in the community that is occurring in the community.”
On a winter day, when they city doesn’t distribute more than it can treat and store, the treatment plant doesn’t have to run at full capacity. During the summer, it can help keep up with high demand days.
“On a peak demand day in the summer can use most of our treated storage in town, so we are refilling those every day or two, so adding on additional tank allows to push that our to fill maybe every two or three days instead of every day,” Latta said.
Both projects will take time to come online, however. Latta said once the city picks a location for an additional reservoir, it will have to deal with financing.
“If it requires a vote of the people, and that is my expectation, that has to go on a ballot in November of 2022, at the earliest,” he said.
Permitting the construction of the reservoir could take about six to eight years, he said.
In the meantime, the city will begin curtailment measures as soon as water stops spilling over the top of the dam and into Rickreall Creeks, which will begin with the city not watering its parks, and asking the Dallas School District and Polk County to not water their lawns and ball fields until drought conditions lift. During the first of the three stages of curtailment, the city will begin a public education campaign about the measures and how residents can conserve water.
The emergency ordinance the city passed creates higher water rates targeted to only impact residents who choose to continue to water lawns. The rates are set to kick in as usage surpasses typical household use.
“We don’t want to charge them because they flush the toilet, take showers and brush their teeth. We want to discourage irrigation,” Latta said.
At stage three of curtailment measures, the city has the option of fining people who violate water conservation orders. Violations include washing cars, or power washing driveways or buildings. Latta said the goal is to not have to get to that stage.
“We are hopeful that we can get into stage one and two and have enough voluntary compliance that we don’t get there,” Latta said.
He added that part of the campaign urging residents to conserve will be making the case for expanding water storage for the future for residents – and possible industrial development.
“The immediacy is that we have to serve the current customers we have, but also from an economic development standpoint, if I want to solicit and encourage development of industrial users … that use a lot of water, I’m going to have a hard time supplying that to them, especially in a drought year,” Latta said. “Adding this additional water capacity with a new dam and reservoir will enable to supply plenty of water to our residents, existing customers and new industry and commerce in Dallas, which is important.”
He said if this year’s dry spring and predicted hotter, drier summer conditions become a pattern, the city may have to place a moratorium on industrial development that require use of large amounts of potable water.
“If we see the same pattern happening year over year, then yes, I can see that being a potential. I can see that being a tool in the tool box. It’s a tool that you don’t want to have to pull out,” Latta said.
“We will have to see how this year goes,” he continued. “If we are able to reduce our irrigation and the citizens, through voluntary compliance, reduce their water consumption as well, I think we will be able to through this year without really forcing people to reduce their water. That’s what I’m hoping. We will have to see how that plays out.”