Council eyes rescinding water restrictions

The City Council discussed rescinding the recently enacted water conservation plan at its July 25 regular meeting, noting that the restrictions were cutting into revenue that funds the city budget.

The city is essentially caught between paying extra for outside water to ensure a steady supply as drought conditions deepen, while watching its own water revenues dry up. The council took no action but planned to revisit the issue when it had more data.

A city ordinance requires the council to implement Phase 2 of the drought contingency plan, requiring water conservation measures citywide, when the elevation of Lake Cooper drops to 1133 feet. The Council implemented Phase 2 on July 22, meaning that residents could be fined for watering at prohibited times.

“If we are restricting people from watering, that is going to have an impact on our revenues,” Mayor Rue Rogers said. “Going into Phase 2 is going to have some repercussions - maybe some not intended, some intended - but just rethinking our whole strategy and making sure we are making the best decision for the city and our water plan.”

But the ordinance also states that conditions for Phase 2 exist when “an above normal demand is made on the city water supply due to conditions which exceed the normal demand of said water.”

Mayor Pro Tem Tom Parker said the ordinance represented “a rush to judgment” about the correct conditions to mandate water conservation.

“I think we need to [get more data] and determine if we want to back off of it,” he said. “I don’t know if we have to back off of it because we haven’t fulfilled all the requirements in that ordinance.”

The City of Olney has a contract with the City of Wichita Falls to purchase 1 million gallons per day of water from Lake Kickapoo when Lake Cooper drops below 65 percent of capacity.

In severe drought conditions, the contract states that Wichita Falls can cap Olney from drawing more than 80 percent of its average usage for previous years. For this reason, Mayor Rogers instructed the city public works department to begin drawing the maximum amount of water from Kickapoo as soon as the contract allowed Olney to do so. The city currently uses 700,000 gallons of water per day, according to Public Works Director KC Blassingame.

“It’s in our interest to pull water at this time just so we can maintain flow and usage of that pipe for the future so if they cut us back to 80 percent like they have historically, we have no usage to put that against,” Councilmember Harrison Wellman said.

At issue was whether council had to alter the ordinance or rescind the Phase 2 declaration, because “there may or may not have been an above-normal demand placed on the city water supply,” City Attorney Bill Myers said.

Mr. Wellman advocated coming up with a long-term plan that determines the economic benefit for Olney “to pull 100 percent from Lake Kickapoo and remain in Phase 1” or “go to Phase 2 and water conservation, and lose the revenue generation.”