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A neighbor to the south provides inspiration for water conservation in OKC.

Peter Wright April 16th, 2013

Conserving water hasn’t always been a high priority in Oklahoma City. Last year, residents set a record for gallons consumed in a single day while lake levels sunk to new lows.

Lake Hefner
Credit: Shannon Cornman

But water conservation appears to be gaining steam.

“This year, it’s more important to think about how to use water, especially outdoors,” said Debbie Ragan, spokeswoman for the city’s utilities department.

Oklahoma City doesn’t have to look far for inspiration, as one of its closest neighbors is being recognized nationally for its water-saving ideas.

A 2012 report by the Alliance for Water Efficiency, a national advocacy group, gave Oklahoma a D grade on an A-F scale. That was in line with most other states. Grades were based on surveys filled out by water regulators in each state.

While Oklahoma scored points in only two of 20 questions, however, Texas received points in all but four — placing it higher than all but one other state.

“If you look through their (Texas’) legislation and legal documents, you’ll see conservation is an important part of that,” said Bill Christiansen, project manager of the alliance’s scorecard.

For Dallas, water conservation wasn’t a priority until 2001, when a drought led its city council to restrict water waste. The city launched a public-awareness campaign the following year; and in 2005 it adopted a five-year strategic plan that was updated in 2010.

“It has been a steady pace of aggressive programs coming online to mitigate drought, but also to make water conservation as natural as buckling your seatbelt,” said Carole Davis, spokeswoman for Dallas’ water utilities.

Last spring, the Dallas City Council enacted permanent restrictions, limiting outdoor watering to twice a week on nearly all land. For incentives, the city has given away 60,000 efficient toilets since 2007. It also contracts to replace inefficient fixtures in qualifying homes and offers free water-use audits.

Dallas also partners with other communities in the region to raise awareness.

Seminars are offered to adults on things such as water-wise landscaping, and Dew, an anthropomorphic drop of water sporting sunglasses, visits classrooms.

J.D. Strong
Credit: Mark Hancock

The population of North Texas is projected to double by 2060, according to Davis. Worries for future water supplies are a driving force behind Dallas’ push to save water.

“Water conservation is the cheapest water supply we’ll ever have,” she said.

Oklahoma is taking note. Ragan said OKC could create tiered pricing levels and impose rigid watering restrictions, such as those in Dallas.

The state moved to increase conservation with the Water for 2060 Act, which sets a goal of using no more water in 2060 than in 2012. J.D. Strong, executive director of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, said it came about as the OWRB reworked the state’s master water plan.

“One of the more popular items to come out of that process was that Oklahomans wanted to see more water conservation and efficiency,” he said.

Over the next few years, Strong will assemble a panel to make voluntary recommendations on how communities can improve water efficiency.

Some of those ideas will come from other states, like Texas. Many Oklahoma towns already have good ideas, but they could use some organization.

“They want to do more than they’re even doing now to conserve water,” Strong said. “They just want help.”


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