The drought isn’t over in Tarrant County. 

But record-setting rainfall in August has pushed back the need to restrict water use, said Rachel Ickert, the chief water resources officer for the Tarrant Regional Water District.

Before the massive storms last month, Ickert said the water district would likely instruct its customers to enter Stage 1, or the ‘Water Watch’ stage, of its drought contingency plan by late September or early October. The water district provides raw water to Fort Worth, Arlington, Mansfield and several other cities across 11 counties. 

Stages of drought contingency plan

Stage 1, Water Watch: Raw water supply falls beneath 75% full. Goal is to reduce total water use by 5%. Cities would limit outdoor watering to twice per week and prohibit watering between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.

Stage 2, Water Warning: Raw water supply falls beneath 60% full. Goal is to reduce total water use by 10%. Cities would prohibit outdoor watering more than once per week and ask residents to postpone new landscaping. Agencies would send more public messaging to conserve. 

Stage 3, Water Emergency: Raw water supply falls beneath 45% full. Goal is to reduce total water use by 20%. Cities would prohibit all outdoor watering with hose-end sprinklers and automatic irrigation systems, including at parks, golf courses, and sports fields. Businesses and residents would be banned from washing paved areas or buildings without permission.

Now, the water district predicts cities will not have to cut back on water use until December at the earliest, Ickert said during the water district’s Sept. 20 board meeting. The rain mostly missed the water district’s largest reservoirs southeast of Dallas, according to previous Fort Worth Report coverage

“It really didn’t change our lake levels and it didn’t really change our outlook as far as where we are in the drought,” Ickert said. “It did push off the potential for Stage 1 (by) probably three months.” 

Stage 1 is triggered when total water supply falls below 75% full. Since early August, the water district’s reservoirs have risen from 80.5% to 82% full. 

Under Stage 1, customers must reduce total water use by 5% through enforcing requirements to water lawns no more than twice per week and banning outdoor watering between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.

The rainfall also caused a dramatic drop in water use by reducing the need for outdoor lawn watering. Before the August storms, Fort Worth broke records for daily water use in late July and early August, with a high of 388.74 million gallons citywide. 

During that time period, water district customers used about 600 million gallons per day, Ickert said. After the floods, that number dropped to 300 million and has now leveled out to about 400 million gallons each day. 

“It really did help us out, even though it didn’t all fall right in our reservoirs,” Ickert said. “Instead of having to send that water directly to the water treatment plants, we’re able to distribute it through the system and put the water into (Lake) Benbrook and Eagle Mountain (Lake) where it’s needed.” 

Drought conditions have also rapidly improved since August, when 100% of Tarrant County’s 2.1 million residents were experiencing extreme drought conditions, where soil moisture is very low and agricultural production is dramatically reduced, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor

Track the Texas drought

Check the U.S. Drought Monitor map for Texas, which is updated each Thursday with the most recent rainfall and soil data. You can select different counties, including Tarrant, for more detailed information.

Tarrant Regional Water District releases daily reports on the status of its water supplies, including reservoirs and lakes. 

The Texas Water Development Board releases a weekly report on the state’s water outlook. 

As of Sept. 20, 0% of the county is experiencing extreme or severe drought, according to the most recent federal data. Still, just under a third of residents are living under moderate drought conditions, which stunt growth of dry-land crops and increase the frequency of wildfires. 

All of the county remains classified as “abnormally dry,” which increases the chance of grass fires and affects agricultural production. 

Since Aug. 2, extreme or worse drought conditions have declined across Texas by 54%, according to the Texas Water Development Board’s Sept. 19 report on the state’s water outlook. 

Because the National Weather Service is predicting a La Niña weather pattern for this fall and winter, the state agency expects the next few months to be warmer and drier than a normal year. By the end of December, the majority of Texas is expected to be back in drought conditions, according to the Sept. 19 report. 

The water district is preparing for dry conditions this winter, Ickert said, with hopes that average or above-average rainfall will arrive in the spring. 

In other water district news:

  • Water district board members approved the agency’s 2023 budget, including a nearly 3% increase in its water rate from $1.25503 to $1.29191. The water district expects to collect an additional $5.6 million in water sales in 2023 compared with 2022, according to previous Fort Worth Report coverage. Projects to expand water supply and mitigate flooding are funded through that rate, and the water district needs more money to deal with “inflated labor and construction costs like everyone else,” General Manager Dan Buhman told the Report earlier this month. The budget scrapped five community events, including Oktoberfest, and cut funding from three recreational services, including Trinity Trail permitting and leasing at two lakes.
  • Water district board members also approved a 6.27% property tax rate reduction from 0.0287 to 0.0269 per $100 evaluation. “We lowered the tax rate to address rising property appraisals while recognizing the reality of rising costs, especially construction costs, and a need to retain and attract staff in this employment market,” Buhman said in a statement.
  • Following approval from water district board members, engineering firm Freese and Nichols will conduct a study to identify and evaluate strategies to mitigate flooding upstream from Fort Worth’s floodway. The goal is to provide protection from “future increase in flows as the upstream area continues to develop,” according to the meeting agenda. Board member Mary Kelleher said she was initially skeptical of the decision to choose Freese and Nichols because she has “always had a feeling that we give too many contracts” to the firm. However, after reviewing Freese and Nichols’ application, she appreciated their experience with flood studies and urged water district staff to “be a little more forceful” in getting Fort Worth to take up the firm’s recommendations.
  • Board members also approved contracts with The National Theatre for Children, Inc. and Tinker LLC to expand water conservation education programs in Tarrant County schools. Since 2020, The National Theatre for Children has provided educational programming to 19,182 students and plans to serve 25,000 students over the next year. Tinker LLC is expected to work with nearly 4,000 students this school year.

Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Her position is supported by a grant from the Marilyn Brachman Hoffman Foundation. Contact her by email or via Twitter.

At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Haley Samsel

Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. She previously covered the environment for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. She grew up in Plano and graduated from American University,...