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Midland and Odessa Grapple With Water Concerns

In parts of the Permian Basin, less than 0.2 inches of rain has fallen since September. As the drought grows increasingly dire, officials and residents are taking more drastic measures to reduce water use.

Trees that were once mostly submerged are now high and dry in the southwestern portion of O.H. Ivie Reservoir southeast of Ballinger Texas. The reservoir is less than 30 percent full, as of April 20 2011.

MIDLAND AND ODESSA — Brown lawns and dusty streets are becoming the norm in Midland. Shrubs along the highway near town are dry and withered. Less than 0.2 inches of rain has fallen in the flatlands since September.

The drought is dire in the Permian Basin, and Midland and Odessa are taking stronger steps than ever to cut water use. On Tuesday, Midland's city council voted unanimously to toughen water restrictions and, for the first time, back them with fines. The city council in Odessa, which has already imposed fines, also met on Tuesday to discuss possible further restrictions.

Both cities get water from the Colorado River Municipal Water District, whose three big reservoirs stand at 26.6 percent, 3.6 percent and 1.2 percent full. Last week, the water district announced plans to cut its customers' water allotment by 10 percent, on top of a prior 10 percent cut. It also wants to build a $142 million pipeline to a groundwater field that could, according to the Midland Reporter-Telegram, add $11 a month to the bills of water district customers in the Permian Basin.

Cuts to almost every type of water use — including lawns, pools and car washes — are on the table for Permian Basin cities, and the changes sparked debate in the council meetings.

“I don’t think the public pools should be closed down,” said Barbara Graff, a member of Odessa's city council, adding that children in the city need a place to play and escape the heat.

Graff and another Odessa council member, James Goates, said that people shouldn’t be allowed to wash their cars at home during the drought, but commercial and mobile car washes should be allowed since shutting them down would cost jobs.

In Midland, most arguments centered on how strict the regulations should be. Residents, who currently can water three times a week, will be reduced to twice a week starting July 1. City officials will also start issuing tickets in July if residents are caught watering on the wrong day.

“It is very easy for people not to comply right now,” said John James, a councilman “To me, being serious about this drought doesn’t mean giving two to three warnings. It means giving tickets on the second citation.”

Stuart Purvis, Midland director of utilities, said that being too harsh about restrictions would only anger residents.

“We don’t want to go beat people up who don’t understand,” he said, “Our intent is to get people to comply.”

Midland Mayor Wes Perry said long-term planning is critical.

“We won’t resolve the drought problems today,” Perry said. “I think right now, all we can do is plan for the worst and hope for the best.”

Some Midlanders would like to see even more action from the city.

Rick French, owner of La Casa Verde Nursery, which has outlets in Odessa and Midland, said people could get more creative with their conservation by using more drought-tolerant grasses and using slabs of concrete to replace dry patches.

“We’ve all got to figure out how to save water," French said. "Some people are catching their shower water and watering their potted plants with it."

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