Speakers address sustainable futures

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Photo by Smith Steigleder

Smith Steigleder
News Writing Student

The Cameron University Department of History and Government, as well as the School of Liberal Arts hosted “The Time it Never Rained: Water, Sustainability and the Future of Texoma” at 10 a.m. on Nov. 10 at CETES Conference Center.

The event featured three key speakers: Russell Schreiber, the Director of Public Works in Wichita Falls; Daniel Nix, the Water Utilities Manager in Wichita Falls; and Afsaneh Jabbar, the Assistant Director of Water for the City of Lawton.

The extreme temperatures the Texoma area has received over the past few summers, coupled with the below average annual rain totals, are the two main factors contributing to the drought.

Schreiber said when those two conditions are put together in “an area that relies solely on surface waters as a drinking water source, you are in a pretty bad situation.”

He said the Weather Channel ranked Wichita Falls, which is the largest regional water provider in the North Texas area, as undergoing the worst summer in 2011 than anywhere else in the U.S.

“What do you do when you are in a drought and you serve 150,000 people?” Schreiber said. “Well, you get out your water conservation drought contingency plan, and you dust it off and begin water conservation measures.”

Currently, Wichita Falls is in stage five drought, he said.

“We have been in 1,190 days of water restrictions here in Wichita Falls – 3 years and 88 days,” Schreiber said. “The city has been much more aggressive with this drought than in previous years.”

Some of the restrictions included raised water bills, as well as limited outside and commercial watering. For instance, businesses such as car washes are only allowed to operate on specific days.

When the city entered the drought, Schreiber said he and Nix “rewrote every stage of the old plan.” For example, he said they didn’t advance stages in the old plan “until the lakes were at 50 percent,” but in the new plan, they advanced stages “when the lakes were at 60 percent.”

We were much more aggressive,” Schreiber said, “and through the conservation efforts, we have taken our average daily demand down from 35 million gallons of water to just over 11 million.”

Although Wichita Falls has received more rainfall this year than in the last couple of years, the rainfall is still six inches below the average of 28 inches.

Nix, the Water Utilities Manager in Wichita Falls, said they are applying lessons learned from previous droughts to this current drought.

They started to investigate the reuse potential of wastewater effluent, he said.

“…We thought that by using wastewater,” Nix said, “it would help alleviate some of the demands of water from our lakes.”

However, the news that wastewater would be purified and reused concerned some Wichita Falls residents.

“Russell [Schreiber] and I spent a lot of time telling people, ‘Look, we are drinking the water,’” Nix said. “‘We are not going to put water out into the system that is harmful,’” Nix said. “‘…Our families are drinking it. It doesn’t make any sense for you to say that we are not being cautious.’”

Nix said the reuse of wastewater has made a difference.

“We have restrictions in place that have reduced our July and August demand from 35 million gallons a day down to 12 million,” Nix said. “That is a 65 percent reduction. Reuse has further reduced that 12 down to seven, because five of it is from wastewater effluent. That makes it an 80 percent reduction from what we typically have used.”

The citizens of Wichita Falls have come to embrace the new water changes with the help of the media.

“We have a really good working relationship with the newspaper, television and radio,” Nix said. “Since 2011, they have been getting the message out, and the citizens of Wichita Falls know exactly what the situation is.”

Jabbar, Assistant Director of Water for the City of Lawton, said Lawton is following Wichita Fall’s lead in water conservation practices.

“We are a couple years behind Wichita Falls,” Jabbar said. “We are in a severe drought here and have been in some type of drought since 2011.”

Jabbar said they haven’t addressed commercial or inside water use but will in the near future.

Stage four is coming to Lawton if we do not get a substantial amount of rain in the next month or two, and in stage four there will be no outside watering at all.

“We have put into place conservation,” Jabbar said, “and it has helped us some, and last month, our water demand decreased by 15 percent. We are fortunate that we have groundwater in our area, and if this is not sufficient to address all of our shortages then we will probably turn to wastewater reuse.”

He said if Lawton doesn’t receive a substantial amount of rain during the next month or two, then stage four, in which outside watered is banned, will be implemented.

Schreiber said all of Texoma is in dire need of rain.

“Pray for rain.” Schreiber said. “Quite frankly, that’s the only thing that is going to save us from this drought. We can do what we can. We can be as conservative as we can be, but you can’t conserve your way out of a drought, especially one like this one today.”





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