COLLIN COUNTY — Water, one of our most precious resources, is in short supply in North Texas.
Stage 3 water restrictions have been in effect since June 1, and nearly all major Collin County cities have responded to the challenge, boasting usage 10-15 percent lower than the year before.
Unfortunately, it can also mean neighbors might have to turn on each other.
A mobile app called Fix It Plano (available for Android and Apple devices) lets residents enter service requests and even submit complaints anonymously. In some cases, even snapping a few pictures of neighbors in the act of unauthorized watering.
"These people who are very good at conserving water, they get upset when they see someone who is not," explained Gerald Cosgrove, Plano's public works director.
Cosgrove said those reports are often not malicious at all. Between the Web posts, the e-mails and letters, the city has received close to 2,500 submissions.
"It's not really about turning someone in; it's a friendly way to help recognize there's an issue," said Denise Hickey of the North Texas Municipal Water District.
But Plano wants to stress that residents are only fined if a city employee catches a homeowner watering on an off-day.
While the Stage 3 water restrictions are helping, it's not enough to be drought-free in North Texas, Hickey said. "Even though we're getting these good showers, don't let it fool you, because our lake levels are still very low."
Jim Chapman Lake is 13.5 feet below, and Lake Lavon 12.5 feet below what is considered "full."
Other Collin County cities have each dealt with enforcement differently. Here's how much the four largest municipalities have collected this year in fines and fees:
- Frisco $31,850
- Allen $54,738
- McKinney $22,500
- Plano $42,810
Here's how much water each municipality has saved this year compared to prior years:
- Frisco: saved 1.06 billion gallons, using 11.1 percent less water
- Allen: saved 62 million gallons (through July 31)
- McKinney: used 7.6 percent less water than 2011
- Plano: saved 3.1 billion gallons, using 16.6 percent less than 2011
"We have met our conservation goals in these last two to three years," Cosgrove boasted.
But he said don't let those dollar figures fool you. While Plano collected $42,810 enforcing water rules, is not a lucrative enterprise.
"It does not come close to covering our cost for enforcement action," the public works director said, noting those enforcement costs are more than double the fees and fines levied.
It's unclear when the water restrictions will be lifted, but Hickey said when the output of the Lake Texoma pipeline is restored early next year, it should be a relief. That source has been shut down because of the zebra mussel infestation at Texoma.