FutureStructure

Wichita Falls, Texas, Preps for Future Drought

Although recent rainfall has returned lake levels to nearly 100 percent, the city is keeping its eye on the prize and preparing for future water shortages.

by John Ingle, Times Record News, Wichita Falls, Texas / June 1, 2016
Ohio St. Bridge in Wichita Falls,Texas flickr/Roy Luck

(TNS) -- The three phases of a crisis include planning and preparation, response and lessons learned for the next incident.

Perhaps the most difficult natural disaster to plan for is a drought, a weather event almost impossible to predict. It also takes a while before the effects of a drought are felt.

Wichita Falls city leaders responded to the drought of record from October 2010 to June 2015, implementing new technologies and kick-starting old plans, including a pipeline to Lake Arrowhead and moving forward with the Lake Ringgold project. Now that the rains have returned and the lakes are at 100 percent, the city is not slowing down with those measures that will address future droughts.

"Absolutely not," said Public Works director Russell Schreiber regarding putting plans on hold. "We're going to keep our foot on the gas. We've got to keep moving forward."

The indirect potable reuse project — a pipeline that will carry treated wastewater effluent from River Road Wastewater Treatment Plant to Lake Arrowhead — should be completed in about 18 months, he said. In a previous interview with the Times Record News, Schreiber said that would be the equivalent of a 10 million gallon rain event every day at Lake Arrowhead once the switch to the IPR flipped.

To put that into perspective, daily water consumption during Stage 5 restrictions was about 11-12 million gallons.

The more than $25 million project includes plant improvements at River Road and construction of the pipeline.

Daniel Nix, utilities operations manager, said the exciting part of the IPR coming online is the ability to reuse water from all three reservoirs several times over.

"If you think about it, all of the water that is taken out of Kickapoo and Kemp and Arrowhead and brought into the city and used, whatever is brought back to the wastewater plant, we put back into Lake Arrowhead to use again," he said. "So, we get to use that Kemp and Kickapoo water twice. It's not just Arrowhead water that's going back to Lake Arrowhead.

"We're limiting the decrease from Kickapoo and Kemp because we get to reuse that water, also."

Schreiber admitted Lake Ringgold is not going to help with the next several droughts because of the lengthy process of building it. He said the city is continuing with permitting and application processes, which could take up to 10 years. Construction of the lake could take another 15 years before the new reservoir is added to the supply.

Consultant Freese & Nichols is currently collecting data for the city in preparation to file an application with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. The state agency recently added more requirements for the application, putting the price tag at more than $500,000.

The city already owns about 6,500 acres northeast of Henrietta in Clay County, where the lake will be. More acreage will need to be purchased to encase the lake.

Nix said conservation was an important part of the equation for the area to survive the drought. He applauded residents for dramatically cutting back on water use, and well as industries such as PPG, Alcoa and Sealed Air in Iowa park for projects to help conserve, adding that Sheppard Air Force Base was conserving before anyone else.

"You talk about how Wichita Falls has set the standard for DPR and other people want to talk to us ..." he said, "but within the Department of Defense bases, Sheppard Air Force Base can show other bases in arid regions — Arizona, New Mexico, California — how it's done. They set the bar."

©2016 the Times Record News (Wichita Fallas, Texas) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.