Severe drought is boosting water demand in North Texas and causing water main breaks

severe drought is boosting water demand in north texas and causing water main breaks

The North Texas Municipal Water District water pump at Lavon Lake in Wylie.

A severe drought is prompting record demand for water and dramatic increases in water main breaks.

North Texas cities are urging residents to limit water use to reduce the stress on the water distribution system as cities work to replace old pipes that are prone to breaking when the soil dries up.

“We’re having to run pumps more, which can put more pressure on pipelines; it increases pressure and flow rates,” said Mary Gugliuzza, a spokeswoman for the Fort Worth Water Department. Fort Worth dealt with 232 main breaks in July, which was the largest number of breaks it had seen in any summer month since August 2011.

Estela Ornelas, a Dallas Water Utilities spokeswoman, said the department responded to 159 water main breaks in June and July this year, a 75% increase from the same period last year.

“The increased water usage puts additional pressure on water pipelines and can lead to more water main breaks and leaks,” Ornelas said in an email.

Arlington Water Utilities director Craig Cummings said water main breaks are influenced by a combination of factors, including the type of soil around the pipe as well as the material with which the pipe is made.

Older pipes were often made with rigid material, such as cast iron, which makes pipes more vulnerable to weather conditions, Cummings said. In many parts of Arlington, Cummings said soil around the pipes is expansive, meaning that pipes shrink during drier conditions.

He said the city has been working to replace older pipes.

“But we still have a bunch of it out there, so a lot of main breaks are taking place,” he said.

Arlington had 94 main breaks last month. “That’s about four times what we would expect in a July,” Cummings said. “Here in August, we’re only four days in, we’ve had 14.”

Arlington is also grappling with peak water demand. Cummings said Arlington set a new record in July. The previous record was in 2011, when the state was also under a severe drought.

He said the city has been monitoring water use from residents to identify leaks and users who aren’t complying with the city’s year-round rules on irrigation. The city has been sending reminders to residents whose meters show excess water use.

“It’s not heavy-handed, it’s not enforcement, we’re just trying to remind people in a friendly way,” Cummings said.

Arlington offers free irrigation checks, and in April it started the Minor Plumbing Repair Program, designed to help low-income people fix leaks that run up their water bills.

Fort Worth has hit record water demand for three consecutive weeks, and the water department is also monitoring meters for water usage and sending reminder postcards to residents.

“Whether these records hold beyond the current month or current week, we won’t know,” said Fort Worth Water Department spokeswoman Gugliuzza. “We would not be surprised if we see these records go by the wayside before the summer is over with the way things are trending.”

In a July news release, Dallas Water Utilities said it also saw a dramatic increase in water demand. Dallas Water Utilities customers use an average of 380 million gallons per day. During the week of July 15, water demand increased to more than 600 million gallons per day.

Grand Prairie, Plano and DeSoto are also urging conservation.

DeSoto announced Friday the city is directing residents and businesses to immediately discontinue nonessential water usage outside of irrigation.

“The immediate goal is to reduce the current higher demand so that we can return our water supply back to safe and sufficient volumes to get us through the remainder of the drought,” said DeSoto Deputy City Manager Isom Cameron.

The North Texas Municipal Water District, a major wholesale supplier of water in the area, is working with counties that it services to communicate about water conservation.

Wayne Larson, a spokesman for the district, said peak demand amid the drought, rather than a reduction of supply, is what is driving the need for water conservation.

“Our hope is that, collectively, we can get through this drought together,” Larson said in an email.

©2022 The Dallas Morning News. Visit dallasnews.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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