Water conservation at top of governmentâ??s agenda in the Panhandle

Right now, saving water is at the top of the governmentâ??s agenda here in the High Plains, and cities and water conservation districts in our area are preparing for worse case scenarios.

Amarillo is growing and so are its water needs. Recognizing the constant stress on water supplies, the city of Amarillo has been expanding supply by continuously purchasing water rights, as well as promoting the every drop counts campaign. The City Council also recently moved to lower limits of water use to activate its drought contingency plan.

â??70% of our capacity is just over 75 million gallons, and if we hit that 5 days in a row, we go to stage one of the drought contingency plan,â?? said Emmett Autrey, the Public Works Director for the city of Amarillo. â??If we hit 85% we go to stage 2, and so on for the high stagesâ??.

While urban water conservation is encouraged, no matter how aggressive efforts are at the municipal level, itâ??s important to remember that here in the Panhandle, most water is used for agricultural purposes.

â??In the Texas Panhandle about 90% of the water is used in agricultural production, agriculture being the key economic aspect,â?? said Kyle Ingham of the Panhandle Regional Planning Commission

The area around Amarillo is served several different water districts. One of these is the High Plains Water District. They are currently proposing draft rule five, which sets ambitious new conservation limits for end users, in a district that has seen a decline of 1.32 feet in the groundwater levels of the Ogallala just this year.

â??This rule sets forward how water will be governed the future,â?? said Ben Weinheimer of the Texas Cattle Feeders Association. â??Water regulations in this district are governed by locally elections ground water conservation districts, which our organization, the Texas Cattle feeders organization, and other livestock organizations support that local control.â??

Both the city of Amarilloâ??s drought contingency plan and the High Plains Water District rule five mandate fines for end users who do not follow strict limits, especially when the region is experiencing severe drought conditions. As drought has become the new normal, many say the future of the water supply in the Panhandle will depend on the success of these conservation programs.