City of Wichita Falls
The City of Wichita Falls and its residents did an impressive job in reducing water use during 2011 through 2015, a period of exceptional drought. The crisis led the City to develop and put into operation a temporary direct potable water reuse plant, one of the first in Texas. The challenge for Wichita Falls now that the most recent drought is over is to translate lessons learned during that traumatic period into an ongoing water conservation program that will result in long-term efficient use and stewardship of resources. Reverting to past practices during wetter times would be a wasted opportunity.
Wichita Falls is located in North Texas near the Red River, the border with Oklahoma, in the Region B water planning area. As of 2014 the City had a population of 105,000. Wichita Falls provides retail water service to its residents and institutions within the community as well as wholesale water to other retail providers in the region. As of 2015, the City’s primary water sources were three lakes – Arrowhead, Kemp, and Kickapoo. Wichita Falls also constructed and put on line a temporary direct potable reuse plant.
During the course of the drought, as a result of implementation of its drought contingency plans, the City basically cut its per capita water use in half to about 100 GPCD. Of course, the tools that accomplished this feat were blunt instruments. The drought persisted so long and was so intense that the City reached Stage 5 of its drought plan, which resulted in elimination of all outdoor irrigation, the banning of home washing of vehicles, and a prohibition on filling swimming pools with City water, among other actions. Water customers also saw a 53 percent hike in water bills to generate funds for temporary and long range water supply projects.
The drought ended abruptly with major rains in May 2015, about four and a half years after it began. Lakes Arrowhead and Kickapoo, which had dropped to about 20 percent of combined capacity lapped over their respective spillways by the end of May. In June 2015 Wichita Falls lifted all drought restrictions, but some restrictions had been made permanent, including limitations on outdoor watering based on time of day. Some changes in those permanent restrictions were made by the City in November to be better prepared for future droughts. The temporary direct potable reuse project was taken out of operation in July 2015 to transition to an indirect reuse project. Also in 2015, Wichita Falls received a long range water supply plan report prepared by the planning and engineering firm Freese and Nichols, and the City began moving forward on some of the proposals recommended by that plan.
Fortunately, a priority recommendation in the plan was for an ongoing water conservation program to try to solidify some of gains in water use reduction made during the drought. It is too soon (early 2016) to determine what path Wichita Falls will take at this point. The City’s 2014 WCP goal for 2019 was 165 GPCD, and its 2024 target was 160 GPCD. Wichita Falls should be able to meet or beat those goals with the imposition of reasonable ongoing limitations on outdoor landscape watering and other water conservation measures. There may be a tendency on the part of some customers to revert to old water use patterns in the absence of drought but some learned lessons may not be easily forgotten. Time will tell.