Published on September 19th, 2013
Written by: M. Scott Carter
Written by: M. Scott Carter
FORT WORTH, Texas – In Fort Worth, Texas, municipal water rates are expected to rise by about 5 percent in 2014. In addition, sewer rates are expected to increase by about 4 percent next year.
The reason: higher raw water rates from the Tarrant Regional Water District and a softer demand for water.
Just about two months after the Supreme Court of the United States ruled 9-0 against the Tarrant Regional Water District’s efforts to take water from inside Oklahoma’s borders, published reports show that water demand in at least one major city served by the district has been declining, and the city’s population growth estimates were wrong.
Although the information comes after Tarrant’s efforts to take Oklahoma water were unsuccessful, Texas water officials have long touted the need for new water supplies, saying the state’s population growth would outpace its existing water supplies.
In fact, in its brief filed with the Supreme Court, the TRWD stressed the need for water in the Lone Star State, in part, by arguing that the state’s population and water consumption were growing dramatically.
“Water use in the region has increased in recent years, primarily in response to increasing population and municipal use,” the TRWD claimed in the brief.
However, according to one Texas newspaper, the demand for water has been flat or down in at least one major city served by the TRWD.
The same goes for sewer rates.
“We got a little overoptimistic on our growth estimates and they didn’t materialize,” Fort Worth Water Director Frank Crumb said to the Star-Telegram newspaper. “So we’re trying to get that back in line and correct it.”
Telephone calls to Crumb were not returned. But Crumb told the Texas newspaper that increased conservation efforts, more water-efficient appliances and new construction codes had caused water usage in Fort Worth to remain the same or decrease.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram reporter Scott Nishimura said Crumb made similar statements in 2012.
“The trend toward water conservation is ongoing,” Nishimura said in an interview with The Journal Record.
Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price told the newspaper that the city’s growth continues, but she, too, agreed that water usage had declined.
“While we’re driving down usage, the growth in the city is going up,” Price said.
That information has the executive director of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board scratching his head.
“They may have overshot their demand projections,” said J.D. Strong. “We knew they were getting more efficient.”
Had the state known that Fort Worth’s demand for raw water had declined, Strong said, that information would have been included in its arguments against Tarrant Regional’s lawsuit.
“If we had known that at the time, we would have rolled it into our litigation,” Strong said.
State Sen. Jerry Ellis, D-Valliant, agreed. Ellis, whose district lies in southeastern Oklahoma, said the idea that there were thousands of thirsty Texans needing water was a long-held myth.
“There’s never been any thirsty Texans,” Ellis said. “They would come to me and they would beg, then they’d threaten and then say that we must either sell them water or they’d come and take us to court and get it for free.”
Texas’ water problem, Ellis said, is that too many residents water the sidewalk.
“They want us to be a bunch of dumb Okies and give them our water for pennies on the dollar,” Ellis said. “But they don’t use their water wisely.”
At least one report supports Ellis’ claim. According to a 2011 study from the Texas Water Development Board, about 31 percent of the state’s single-family residential annual water consumption is dedicated for outdoor purposes.
The study found that the average single-family household used 361 gallons per day. Of that figure, study authors said, about 190 gallons per household or 53 percent of single-family water use went for outdoor use, while 171 gallons per household per day – 47 percent – was for indoor use.
“Average annual indoor use per household was 62,000 gallons while outdoor use was 70,000 gallons,” study authors wrote.
Still, for Tarrant Regional, obtaining water from Oklahoma was an important, if not critical, component of securing an adequate supply of water for a growing area served by water utility. However, even while it pushed its efforts in court – and in the Oklahoma Legislature – to secure Sooner State water, Tarrant also had other plans for locking down other water sources.
Right now the water district is spending $2.3 billion to build a 90-mile pipeline from eastern Texas to Tarrant County as part of its Integrated Pipeline Project.
Developed in the 1980s, the project partners the TRWD with the city of Dallas to pipe water from several east Texas reservoirs to Tarrant. The first phase, which would connect Tarrant with Cedar Creek Lake, is expected to be completed in 2021.
“It’s like the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing,” said Charlette Hearne, president of the group Oklahomans for Responsible Water Policy. “Why would they spend millions of dollars to fight us in a federal lawsuit and have all these lobbyists at the Capitol when their usage is declining? It’s very surprising.