Water conservation months away, but still a possibility
Kerry Craig | News-Telegram Assistant Editor

July 28, 2006 -- In the past year, since it all but quit raining, city officials have been keeping a close watch on the water levels in Cooper Lake. 

Had it not been for good runoff in February, Sulphur Springs would have implemented water conservation measures several months ago, something City Manager Marc Maxwell says may be placed into effect in early 2007 if the drought continues.

Currently, the water level in Cooper Lake is about 12 feet low. Maxwell said that puts the city in about the same position it was in a year ago when conservation measures were first discussed.

"If the drought continues, by February it will be difficult to get any water out of [Cooper] lake," he said. "[Water] will be there, but will be difficult to get to."

Sulphur Springs, along with North Texas Municipal Water District and the city of Irving, are entitled to a certain percentage of the available water in Cooper Lake. Sulphur Springs, under the current agreement, has 11 percent of Cooper Lake water, a quantity the city seldom ever uses.

But part of the problem, the city manger explained, is that all of the permits for water in the lake add up to more than the lake can actually yield in drought conditions.

"So the parties in the lake -- Sulphur Springs, North Texas and Irving -- do what we call overdraft," he said. "They draw up to their permit but draft beyond what the lake can actually yield.

"We usually have two-thirds of our water in the lake at any given time," Maxwell said. "If we still have that two-thirds and everybody else has pumped theirs, and ours is now at the bottom and the lake is so deep and so empty, it does us little good."

Maxwell has proposed an accounting system that will divide up the water that is actually in the lake -- not theoretical water, but the actual amount -- to help keep the entities from overdrafting on their water account.

"You can pump what you  have and can pump it as quickly as you want," he said. "But, when you have pumped everything you actually have in the lake, you are done."

The proposed agreement would require the participating entities communicate with each other on water issues, but Maxwell said he did not know how well the North Texas Municipal Water District and Irving would accept the concept. As for Sulphur Springs, Maxwell said he plans to work to keep everyone informed on water usage on a new Internet website.

"We will run our own calculations and will have it posted on the [city's] website so that at any time, anybody can log on and see who has what left in their account," he said.

Following a meeting this week in Austin, the city manager said the other entities appeared somewhat receptive to the plan.

"Of course, the proof is in the pudding. When we have signatures on paper we will know the agreement has been accepted," he said.

Maxwell said he did not expect to see the agreement signed before the end of this year, and that it would benefit Sulphur Springs residents more when the next drought hits than the current one.

"The bottom line for us is, we are in a better position than anyone of the other parties," he said. "We still have Lake Sulphur Springs with a year's supply of water, so I think we will be just fine."

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