Even underground water can't escape the ravages of West Texas wildfires.
Fire damage has crimped one of Lubbock's key summer water supplies, officials warned Thursday, leaving the city with enough water for customers but vulnerable if any other unexpected outages occur.
"It's not nearly as bad as it could be," Water Utilities Director Aubrey Spear said. "We're going to recover pretty quickly."
Damage to the power lines serving the Bailey County Well Field, which the city taps to meet summer demand, has cut by 9 million gallons a day the total amount of water Lubbock can supply its customers.
Another major pipeline break or similar problem could pitch the city into increased drought restrictions.
If water demand doesn't soften while crews repair the well fields, the city could ratchet up into tougher drought rules, Spears said.
Wildfires in the area raced through about 6,000 acres of grassland and scrub over two days, said Brian Frieda, Muleshoe police chief and Bailey County Emergency Management coordinator.
The blaze devoured wooden poles supporting the lines, or snapped cables in the heat, cutting power to 20 of the 156 pumps set up to draw drinking water from the area.
It was rough country for heavy equipment like fire trucks, Frieda said. Crews working to replace burned up power line poles had to cross expanses of sand, slowing down work in the area.
"It's a royal pain," Frieda said. "If you're weighted down just right, the sand just sucks you in. As loose and dry as it is, it just drags them down and buries them."
Lubbock hopes to have the well field fully restored by the end of next week.
Though not a critical blow to water supplies, the blazes demonstrated how even underground water was not out of the drought's reach.
Lubbock holds 82,000 acres of property rights for its 60-year-old field, giving the city a large buffer against anyone else pumping water.
The field's only vulnerabilities: fire and mechanical failure.
But there wasn't much the city could afford to do, Spear said.
"Can you really eliminate all risk?" he asked. "The answer, of course, is 'no.' "
Increasingly, Lubbock has become reliant on water drawn from the Ogallala Aquifer, a massive formation stretching into Nebraska, fueling the region's cash crops, power supplies and cities.
Lake Meredith, once the main source of water for major regional cities, has withered to record lows.
Years of shrinking shorelines have kept Lubbock residents in the first stage of their drought plan since 2006, when city leaders updated the ordinance.
Lubbock tries to limit the use of the well field to the summer, when high temperatures, lawns and other summer activities place the biggest demands on local water supplies.
The field also helped fill in after water officials stopped pumping from Meredith earlier this year.
The well field accounted for about 41 percent of the city's water supply in May, according to city records.
Customers averaged about 58 million gallons a day in June, which didn't change drought conditions as long as Lubbock could produce up to 71 million gallons a day.
With the outage limiting the city to 62 million gallons a day, the city could find itself in the second stage of drought restrictions if it spends 10 days using lots of water.
Additional restrictions in the second stage of drought conditions would limit lawn watering to once a week and prohibit using water to wash off driveways or other outdoor surfaces.
The city would also ban filling pools and jacuzzis.
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