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City asks that water be guarded
HOUSTON, Texas (The Houston Chronicle) -- Mayor Lee Brown asked Houston residents Wednesday to voluntarily conserve water as a string of rainless, sweltering 100-degree days surged water usage in the city to record levels.
The city kicked in the first stage of a water conservation plan that urges -- but does not require -- residents to water their lawns on alternating days, reduce their water consumption and repair any leaks or other plumbing problems.
The plea for water conservation was the first the city has issued since 1998, when an ordinance required the first of a three-stage conservation plan go into effect when water consumption exceeded 80 percent of the city's daily capacity. Water consumption Tuesday exceeded 80 percent for the first time this year.
Brown also urged Houstonians to seek shelter from the heat at multipurpose centers, libraries and swimming pools.
"We can prevent heat-related deaths and illness if we take some very reasonable precautions," he said.
Eight heat-related deaths have been reported in Harris County this year, according to the county medical examiner's office. Six of the eight have occurred since July 6, around the time temperatures began soaring into triple digits. City ambulances have made 38 heat-related calls for victims of heat exhaustion and heatstroke so far in July.
The National Weather Service in League City forecasts continued hot weather through the weekend with temperatures remaining in the upper 90s to lower 100s. The weather service issued a heat advisory Sunday that will remain in effect through today.
With skies expected to stay clear and conditions remaining dry, city officials worried that Houstonians will overwater heat-stressed lawns and gardens.
Residents are being asked to water their lawns and gardens on Sundays and Thursdays if their street addresses end in an even number and Saturdays and Wednesdays if their addresses end in an odd number.
Residents also are being asked to water their lawns between 8 p.m. and 10 a.m. on designated water days. Other measures include checking for and repairing leaks, dripping faucets and running toilets.
"We are not in a crisis situation, but we are taking proactive steps," Brown said.
On Tuesday, the city pumped a record 544.6 million gallons of water to customers. City officials implemented the voluntary measures after the three-day average ending Tuesday exceeded 533.6 millions gallons, or 80 percent of the city's daily capacity.
Thomas J. Rolen, acting director of Public Works and Engineering, said he does not expect water usage to reach critical shortage levels.
The city controls water rights to Lake Houston and Lake Conroe in the San Jacinto River System, Lake Livingston in the Trinity River System. It gets its groundwater from the Chicot and Evangeline Aquifers.
He does not anticipate water shortages to reach Stage 2 in the water conservation plan, which goes into effect when consumption exceeds 85 percent of capacity, or 567 million gallons a day.
At Stage 2, the city bans residents from using decorative water fountains, from letting water escape into ditches and sidewalks and from using water for outdoor recreation.
At Stage 3, when water usage exceeds 90 percent, City Council legislates similar restrictions.
Although the ordinance does not include penalties for violating conservation measures, a conservation surcharge is added to water customers' bills when they exceed average water usage when the city upgrades the plan.
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