Lubbock residents drowning drought-stricken lawns could find city officials tightening their spigots this summer.
Codes enforcement officers and Lubbock water officials had no immediate plans to raise city drought restrictions, a set of rules ratcheting down tougher water restrictions when the city's demand rises too high.
But record drought, vulnerable supplies and water use not seen in roughly a decade could force some tough decisions as summer heats up.
"We're all more aware that we've got to not waste water," Water Utilities Director Aubrey Spear said. Lubbock residents have increased pumping by enough this year compared to last to fill the Clapp Park pool more than 4,300 times. And they've demanded the water as city supplies wither toward their weakest point in years.
The shoreline at Lake Meredith, once the city's main supply of water, long ago fell beneath the reach of water pumps managed by the Canadian River Municipal Water Authority.
Directors of the agency, which supplies 11 cities including Lubbock, chose to stop pumping from the lake from January until June.
The first gallons from the rested reservoir should arrive soon, Spear said.
That has left groundwater pulled from the Ogallala Aquifer to make up the difference. Two fields - one operated by the authority north of Amarillo and city-owned rights near Muleshoe - have slacked the rapid increase in city demand.
It's hard to tell whether nature will help slow the pumping. The city tied its fourth driest year for rainfall between January and April.
The year with the driest period on record, 1996, saw a little more than a foot of rain in the months that followed, or a third less than normal, according to the National Weather Service.
Even with that working against lawns across Lubbock, the city hasn't come close to hitting the second stage of its drought plan, Spear said.
The city's highest-demand day in May pumped more than 58 million gallons. The city would have to pump roughly 73 million gallons for 10 straight days to move into tougher restrictions.
Spears remained hopeful that awareness of the high water usage - not to mention water bills for the past two months - would curb consumption.
"I think we'll see it starting to taper off," Spear said. "If it were to continue on that trend, we would be up over 80 million gallons a day, and we haven't seen that in over a decade."
Lawn irrigation can be responsible for 40 to 50 percent of the increased summer water demand, Spear said.
Summer months require much more attention to sprinkler systems, to make sure homes don't waste water and lose money because of systems that typically run in the dead of night, said Stuart Walker, code administration manager.
"Sprinkler systems seem to be some of the most finicky things in the city," Walker said. "They may be working fine one day and going haywire the next."
High use could mean tougher enforcement this summer, although the department continues to issue a negligible number of tickets.
Last year, just 17 percent of water complaints produced warnings, and none of the 680 cases led to tickets. Codes administrators or police had already issued warnings for 40 percent of complaints made this year.
"We are definitely out in the field looking at the complaints that we call in and looking at the sources of runoff when we see water in the gutter," said Walker. "But we haven't found very many cases in which people are not willing to come into compliance."
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