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Cool water

The city adapts to the new reality of water usage with alternative watering methods and odd-even watering days while considering even more conservation ideas.

Ben Felder May 28th, 2014

The City of Oklahoma City wants more people like Dustin Akers.

Shortly after purchasing his first home last year, Akers bought a rain barrel through the city. Since it arrived two months ago, he hasn’t had to use his outside water faucet.

“[My house] has a lot of landscaping that I wasn’t necessarily prepared to take care of,” Akers said. “I thought this would be the best way to take care of it.”

Cutting down on outdoor water consumption is a goal for city officials who hope more residents will embrace conservation methods, such as rain barrels. Oklahoma City is already utilizing an odd-even outdoor water rotation, which restricts residents to outdoor watering every other day. However, utility officials say a more aggressive outdoor water ban could be on the way.

“We hope we don’t have to go with more aggressive measures,” said Marsha Slaughter, OKC utilities director. “But it’s possible we could have to go to a more restrictive level.”

That could mean restricting outdoor water usage to one or two days a week, City Manager Jim Couch told the city council last week.

Another step the city is contemplating is changing the way it charges for water usage. Water rates increase each year, but the utilities department is studying a new pay structure that would essentially charge residents more for outside watering.

“If you choose to use outside watering, we are OK with that,” Couch said. “You are just going to pay more. You will have a lower rate for your base domestic water consumption and then a higher rate … for outside water usage.”

Rate increases help the city pay for capital projects in an effort to transport water into the city from lakes and tributaries, Couch said.

“We are more heavily dependent on southeastern Oklahoma [for water] …because western Oklahoma is drying up,” Couch told the council last week. “There is going to have to be some longterm capital improvements associated with that. There is going to have to be some rate increases on the water side to accommodate that.”

As Oklahoma City continues to grow — an additional 100,000 people have called the city home since 2000 — and as drought conditions continue across the state and the southwestern United States, finding ways to promote water conservation will continue to be important for the city’s water department. More aggressive water bans could be enacted this year, and it’s unlikely the city will ever return to a nonrestrictive water usage system, city officials said.

“It’s never going to change back to how it was,” said Ward 4 Councilman Pete White about outdoor water schedules that once allowed residents to water whenever they wanted. “We are shifting the paradigm from where we were to where we are headed in the future. We are probably never going back to a situation where you could water [outside] on any day of the week.”

As Oklahoma City adapts to a new water reality, the need for more citizens to reduce water consumption will become more important.

Water conservation tips

• Use drought-tolerant plant materials in landscaping or gardens.

• Avoid fertilizing, aerating, de-thatching, topdressing or transplanting. It’s not a good idea to encourage new growth during a drought.

• Remember, brown Bermuda grass means it is dormant, not dead. It’s nature’s way of conserving energy.

• Water plants and shrubs less frequently but deeply and thoroughly.

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