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The city of Gunter alerted its residents on Wednesday night that by the next morning, the city would likely run out of water.
“Due to excessive water consumption, the City’s water storage tanks are unable to refill. Consequently, the City will be without water by early morning,” read the emergency notification.
As of Thursday afternoon, the city had not yet run out of water, but residents are asked to continue conserving.
“We’re on the brink. We’re teetering. It’s a balancing act. It’s a 50/50 proposition,” said Gunter City Manager Rick Chaffin.
The excessive heat this summer, two malfunctioning wells and the residents who have not adhered to the water conservation have created what Chaffin describes as a “perfect storm.”
”If we don’t adhere to the restrictions, we definitely won’t have water,” Chaffin said, though he added he’s hoping it won’t come to that. “We’re optimistic — cautiously optimistic.”
Gunter, about 50 miles north of Dallas, typically relies on three wells for its water supply, but two of them are down due to a motor issue and an electrical failure, city officials said. One of the wells that is down is a new one that began pumping water to the city last fall.
“Wells are typically designed to run at 50-60% of the time. Due to extreme heat, drought conditions and water demand, these wells were running continuously, which is why they continue to fail,” said a letter the city sent to residents Thursday to update them on the water emergency.
Work to fix one of the wells has already begun, and contractors are expected to start repairs on the other one Friday, the letter said. Officials didn’t have a timeline for the repairs.
Texas has been experiencing a particularly hot summer, with drought conditions affecting almost the entire state and 60% of the state in an extreme drought. Climate change has pushed average temperatures higher in Texas, making heat waves and droughts worse and offering less relief at night as minimum temperatures, in particular, have risen rapidly, scientists have found.
Chaffin said the heat and high water demand have put pressure on other cities across Texas who depend on wells for their water supply. According to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, 4,500 of the 7,110 public water systems in the state use groundwater wells as their only source of water.
And when these cities have problems with their systems, Chaffin said it’s not easy to find available contractors to repair them.
“There’s a lot of cities who have wells, and a lot of cities are having problems with wells right now. ... You just can’t pick up a phone and call [contractors] and they arrive the next day — it doesn’t work that way,” Chaffin said. “We’re very fortunate to have somebody on site as quickly as we have.”
Gunter is unable to access its typical emergency water supply from the nearby Mustang special utility district, which serves Denton County, because of the utility’s own drought conservation efforts.
Earlier this month, the Mustang special utility district asked customers to reduce their water consumption due to the drought.
“They’ve been great partners with us ... but right now every system is stressed,” Chaffin said.
Chaffin said he has been exploring options to upgrade the water infrastructure to something more sustainable since 2020. Even if the three water wells were working properly, he estimates that the city would be able to rely on them only for another two years. After that, population growth would force the city to upgrade, he said.
Gunter has 2,500 residents but expects to see significant growth in the coming years, Chaffin said.
Cities and towns throughout Texas face many hurdles to upgrade their water infrastructure, from high costs that they don’t want to pass on to their residents to supply chain shortages for raw materials. Chaffin has been looking into options for a more sustainable water supply that can withstand the increasing pressure from expected population gains. He said the city will propose a resolution outlining its water supply strategy in the next two months.
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