Friday, 15 July 2011
Extreme drought conditions have prompted area governments to take measures such as canceling Fourth of July fireworks and asking citizens to conserve water.
One of the conservation methods Cedar Park and Leander have suggested is xeriscaping—which uses plants and gardening methods that require little to no supplementary irrigation—and Cedar Park has gone so far as to launch a website to encourage it: WaterThriftyCedarPark.com.
However, some residents are limited in the ways they can meet these requests due to landscaping requirements instituted by their homeowners associations.
Mitch Fuller is a board member on the Brushy Creek Regional Utility Authority and the mayor pro tem of Cedar Park. BCRUA is a partnership with Round Rock, Leander and Cedar Park to build facilities and capacity necessary to provide water for the growing populations in each city. Fuller said his involvement with BCRUA has caused him to re-examine the way he views his own lawn.
“I got a nasty letter from my HOA about my yard,” Fuller said, remarking on his yard’s appearance. “I fertilize it, but I can tell you that my personal behavior has changed. It’s more important that we have drinking water.”
What residents can do
Silverado Ranch and Cedar Park resident Linda Hernandez’s yard is featured on the Water Thrifty Cedar Park website. She uses native and drought-resistant plants, rain collection barrels and a sensor that shuts off the sprinklers if it detects rain.
Hernandez said she and her husband, Saul, put a lot of work into their yard, and some plants have not worked for them. But, they said, that after the first couple of years it gets easier.
“If something doesn’t survive, we figure it wasn’t meant to be,” Hernandez said. “For instance, I love purple fountain grass, and I know it’s drought-tolerant, but we just haven’t had good luck with it.”
She said she had to have discussions with her HOA about her yard before it had matured, but she has had fewer issues since her plants became established.
Silverado Ranch HOA President Trey Hensley said the HOA is only interested in serving the neighborhood and protecting property values. He said any previous objections were about noncompliance, not xeriscaping.
“Now that it’s been in three or four years it looks good, but she’s just like anyone else. If she lets it grow over the sidewalk, she’ll get a violation,” Hensley said of Hernandez.
Many HOAs require a large majority of all HOA members, not just those who attend meetings, to vote in favor of changing their rules. Cedar Park subdivision Forest Oaks’ HOA requires 80 percent of all members to vote in favor to change its covenants.
“We couldn’t get 10 percent of the residents in May to attend our annual meeting or have a proxy,” Forest Oaks HOA President John Taube said. “To expect that we can get 80 percent of people to vote ‘yes’ on anything, I think, is not going to happen.”
Hensley said that xeriscaping is not expressly forbidden, and both Hensley and Taube said residents just need to educate themselves on their deed restrictions and covenants and get any plans approved by their HOAs.
The Crystal Falls development in Leander encourages xeriscaping. Crystal Falls developer Bill Hinckley said not only do xeriscaped lawns save water and money in the long run, they blend in with Crystal Falls’ natural surroundings.
“Just read the headlines. We see a future of reduced water capacity, and Leander will be no exception. The water that we do use needs to be used efficiently,” Hinckley said.
Common lake interests
As Leander and Cedar Park encourage citizens to conserve, the cities are also pursuing ways to ensure the water supply remains constant. The cities get their drinking water from Lake Travis, and both cities’ pipes that draw water from the lake to their treatment plants are at the same depth. If the lake gets below 620 feet, both of the intakes would be in jeopardy.
“Conservation is not a luxury,” Cedar Park Utilities Program Manager Katherine Woerner said.
The cities have teamed up with the Drought Contingency Raw Water Intake Plan, which would be implemented in two phases. Phase A, which has already been approved for engineering and the bidding process at a cost of $80,000, would take the pipeline to a deeper part of the lake, and thus provide water to the two cities if lake levels drop below 620 feet. Cedar Park will shoulder 70 percent of the cost and Leander will pay 30 percent.
“We’re not only adjacent to each other, our raw water intakes are adjacent to each other, so it’s logical that we have a partnership to address those problems and take the necessary contingency measures to prepare for and be able to respond to lowering lake levels so we are able to have a continuous water supply,” Leander Utilities Director Wayne Watts said.
For Phase B, which has not yet been approved by either city council, the cities have an agreement with landowners to allow the cities to place a floating raw water intake barge to take water from the deep water intake and send it on to the cities’ respective water treatment plants.
“Those agreements state that the barge can only be there during certain low lake level conditions, and once those low lake level conditions cease to exist, the barge has to be moved,” Assistant City Manager Sam Roberts said.
Roberts said the sealed bids for Phase A will be opened July 19.
Seeking a paradigm shift
It seems all the entities at work are striving to achieve a fundamental shift in water consumption, because if there is something no one seems to disagree about, it is that water issues are not going away. The feast and famine cycles of droughts followed by short periods of excess rain are expected to continue as more and more people draw on the same resources.
“That’s just the nature of the climate here in the Austin area.” Lower Colorado River Authority meteorologist Bob Rose said. “It’s been this way for a long time.”