Sunday, March 16, 2014

Drought Programs and a Proposal

Lake Wichita, 3/16/14, after rain yesterday
There is no doubt water is at the top of everyone's mind here in Wichita Falls. Although we did have a nice rain on March 15, it is way too early to declare victory. Even with the soaking we got yesterday, we are still nearly 2 inches below normal this year and still 30 inches behind over the last three years. So our water woes will continue. You can see by looking at the picture of Lake Wichita at the left, things are still looking pretty grim, although there is more water in the lake than there has been lately.

I am glad to see people finally taking water seriously. In spite of the fact we live in a relatively hot and dry part of the country, people have generally taken a ready source of water for granted. We don't have unlimited water resources and what we have isn't of the best quality. The city of Wichita Falls is the water provider for not only the city, but several other municipalities in the area. 

With lake levels standing at around 26%, the situation is dire and people have finally awakened to our reality--and one that is likely to become more common as our climate continues to change (whether you agree that humankind has a hand to play or the change is just part of a natural ebb and flow, the results are the same.) We cannot continue to treat water as an inexhaustible resource. The bottom line is, if it doesn't rain, we're in deep doo-doo.

On Saturday, March 1, River Bend Nature Center hosted a Save Our Trees workshop, sponsored by the county AgriLife Extension office and the local Texas Master Gardeners. The venue was packed. There was a lot of good information shared which essentially focused on proper pruning and mulching. 

On the following Thursday, there were two water-related programs. State Representative James Frank hosted a well-attended water town hall at Midwestern State University. I was pleased that he was very factual and gave the city appropriate credit for the steps they have taken over the past several years so that we were better prepared for this drought than we could have been. He also went over some of the difficulties in managing our water supply--evaporation being the main one. Initially the questions were reasonably on point, but fortunately I had to leave for the next program about the time the more partisan rants started.

Following the water town hall, River Bend was once again the venue for a workshop on greywater harvesting, attended primarily by members of the Rolling Plains Texas Master Naturalist chapter, but along with some other hardy citizens. Attending both the water town hall and the greywater program the same night was tiring. Chris Cornman of Best Exteriors of North Texas and Greywater Authority provided a lot of details for those interested in installing their own greywater systems.

Chris will be doing a portion of his presentation again on Thursday, April 17 at 7 AM at a business group. However, guests are welcome, so if you would like to attend, email me at, and I will add you to the list for that day.

These are all good things, but what are some of the things we should be doing going forward? Here's Penny's take:
  - We should never come out of Drought Stage 1 restrictions--we don't have the resources to allow people to use all of the water they want to whenever they want to.
  - We need to continue to promote water conservation, all the time.
  - Put limits on groundwater use. Texas has different rules for surface versus groundwater use. Basically if you can pump it, you can use it. It is ridiculous to curtail outside watering through the municipal water system but those who can find water can pump all they want--your little pocket of groundwater may be attached to my little pocket and you could suck it all out for non-essential use.
  - We should actively encourage replacing landscape with native plantings and drought resistant plants. We are going to lose a lot of trees, even if we have a fairly normal year, with the stress they have been under. We do not need to replace Bradford pear trees with more of the same, even though they are pretty in bloom. Whoever landscaped the house we bought a couple of years ago planted nonfruiting mulberry trees. They have nice shade, but are water hogs and destroy water distribution pipes. I am not going to take them out because of their shade, but when they bite the dust, something more drought tolerant is going in their place.
  - The city should use native, drought resistant plantings on the medians and in the parks. I personally think the planted medians are worth the time, effort and money, but is the way to go.
  - Give incentives for installing water conserving fixtures and appliances.
  - Continue to provide information on rainwater harvesting and greywater reuse and ensure they remain permitted within the city limits.
  - As the city and Chamber actively recruit new businesses, their water use ought to be a prime consideration.
  - No, the city population doesn't need to grow fast or a lot. This is going to be a big problem with Texas' stated philosophy of pulling in all comers. The state only needs to read its own water plan to figure that out--basic math works, unless you are talking about supporting a burgeoning population on water resources that can't keep up with the population we have. I recently read an Edward Abbey quote: "Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell."
  - Encourage permaculture and encourage people to convert water-sucking lawns to native plantings and gardens (we might as well tackle food security while we're at it.)
  - Continue the water reuse project. Many people are crying about drinking "potty water," but the bottom line is we all drink potty water. The water we pull from the lakes for our water came from someone else's effluent. Our effluent has been going downstream and other people have been drinking it for years.
  - Encourage composting and mulching. If people would add just a little bit of compost to their plantings every year, the need for water would decrease significantly (I had a number for this, but of course I can't find it now.) Remember, if you have a compost cart pickup, you can get two loads of compost free each year.

We don't live on Dune (if you never read the book, it's one everyone should read), but we can conserve now or pay later.

Spring Cleaning: It Doesn't Look Like It Will Happen in Wichita Falls

Trash along a trail near Lake Wichita
I don't know if you have been out and about the city very much, but if you have, you can't help but notice the large amount of trash in all parts of town. I took the photo to the left with my cell phone just walking down a trail near Lake Wichita while I was walking. Although it isn't the best photo, as it was taken with my cell phone, it is easy to see there are several pieces of trash in a small area. This is hardly the worst of the trash around town.

I have people tell me all of the time that the litter situation can't be helped because of the wind. I agree the wind exacerbates the situation as any unsecured trash is going to blow around. However, if people took more care to create less trash and to better dispose of that trash they do create, our community would look much better.

Some years ago the Clean City Commission used to oversee a community-wide cleanup in early April. It was a pretty big deal. In a purge of commissions, the Clean City Commission got the ax. Justifiably so, as the cleanup was about the only worthwhile thing the commission did (obviously, this is my own somewhat jaded opinion.) The citywide cleanup was turned over to a small non-profit, Keep Wichita Falls Beautiful. This non-profit was held together by a very small group of volunteers. They did continue to sponsor the cleanup for a few years, but with dwindling volunteer resources, the amount of time and effort put into the cleanup declined. Keep Wichita Falls Beautiful has since gone belly up. I checked with the city and there is no plan to conduct a citywide cleanup this year.

The city did add some money to the budget this year for additional litter pickup along Kell Blvd, which seems to be the main thoroughfare where Wichitans unload their trash. However, Southwest Parkway is a dump and the access road along Kell also looks trashy. The open field at the intersection of Hwy 287 and Kell is an eyesore. And there are other areas just as bad--these are just ones I happen to pass often, so are especially irritating to me.

I know there are volunteer groups who periodically clean up some areas. I am involved with some of them. The Rolling Plains Texas Master Naturalist chapter cleans up Plum Lake quarterly and Sikes Lake and the feeder drainage ditch annually. The Red River Sierra Club group does a regular pick up of a 2-mile stretch of Sisk Road as part of the Adopt-a-Highway program--there are many other organizations that are involved in this program as well.

It is obvious this is not enough. There is no way the city is going to pay for more litter pickup--they hue and cry from the addition of the monies for Kell Blvd makes it pretty clear that our citizenry is not interested in paying for this service. By the same token, I don't think any of us like to see our community looking unkempt, and it's an embarrassment when "company" comes. Our city has been doing a good job of selling Wichita Falls for conferences and events and we need to make a good impression.

So where am I going with this? We need some mechanism to create enthusiasm for a general cleanup. It would be nice if it was informal--in other words, people would just take personal responsibility to cleanup around their homes, businesses would clean up their areas and groups would each take an area and clean it up. But I know that's unlikely to work without a group of people organizing it.

What do you think? Is there a group of citizens who would roll up their sleeves in the next few weeks to get the ball rolling??? I'll bet the amount of work would be minimal if there was a dozen people to take it on. Mostly publicity and some coordination.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Deadline Approaching for Rolling Plains Texas Master Naturalist Spring Training Class

Yes, I'm late! But there is still time to enroll in the Rolling Plains Texas Master Naturalist spring training program. Lots of interesting instructors (to include me) talking about the natural world in our area. Field trips are included. In addition to all you'll learn, you'll meet some of the nicest people you could ever want to know. Whether you want to take the class for the information or you're interested in becoming a certified Texas Master Naturalist, this is the place to start.

Water Concerns

Anyone who lives in Wichita Falls and surrounding area who isn't concerned about water is just not paying attention. No surprise that there is a lot going on relating to that topic. As our lakes continue to drop, everyone needs to conserve.

Here are some programs those of you who read this blog (and keep up with our more active Facebook page) will be interested in.

Thursday, March 6, 5:30 PM - 7:00 PM. State Rep James Frank will hold a Water Town Hall in Rm 101, Dillard College, Midwestern State University.

Thursday March 6, 7:30 PM - 9:00 PM, Chris Cornman of Best Exteriors of North Texas, will be presenting a program on using greywater at River Bend Nature Center.

Tuesday, March 25, 9:30 AM - 1:00 PM, the Clean Rivers Advisory Committee will meet at the Red River Authority offices. This is a more technical meeting, but is open to the public. You do need to RSVP as they provide lunch. RSVP to Stacey Green at 940-723-2236 or by March 18.