Fort Bend County: A snapshot of information – August 20, 2011

20 08 2011

TROPICS:     No Immediate Threat to Fort Bend County.  Monitoring Tropical Disturbance 31.

EXTREME HEAT:     Heat Index will reach 106 degrees today.  Heat Advisory in effect for Fort Bend County until 9:00 pm tonight.  Good chance that heat advisory will be extended.  Upper-level high pressure will remain parking over south-central portions of the nation over the next few days; this means that extreme heat conditions, as well as extreme drought conditions will persist over Fort Bend County into the early part of next week.

DROUGHT:     The KBDI Drought Index Level is at 756.  This is an extreme level indicating severe drought and increased wildfire occurrence.  Nine counties in our immediate vicinity are all above the 750 Level.  Drought conditions are forecast to continue into next week and beyond.  Little or no rain is projected for the coming week.

WATER SYSTEMS:     Per information from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, roughly 19% of the County’s population live in areas with voluntary restrictions on the use of water.  Roughly 10% of the County’s population live in areas which have implemented Stage 1 water use restrictions.

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City of Houston issues mandatory water restrictions

19 08 2011

A couple of days ago, the City of  Houston implemented stricter water conservation measures.  And, yes, that affects citizens in Fort Bend County— about 38,000 individuals of the City of Houston live in Fort Bend County.  The City of Houston, along with First Colony MUD No. 9 are now at “Stage 2” of their drought plans.  More about the actions of the City of Houston can be found in the report from KHOU.com staff, published on August 16, 2011.  The article:

Mayor Annise Parker on Monday implemented the City of Houston’s “Stage Two” water conservation plan, making the previous voluntary water restrictions mandatory for all residents.

Under the Stage Two plan, Houston residents are required to repair all detectable leaks within 72 hours of discovery and limit outdoor watering to two days a week.

Residents at even-numbered street addresses can water their lawns on Sundays and Thursdays, between the hours of 8 p.m. and 10 a.m. Residents with odd-numbered addresses can water on Saturdays and Wednesdays, between the hours of 8 p.m. and 10 a.m.

Failure to comply with the restrictions could result in hundreds of dollars in fines.

Parker said it wasn’t her intention to hand out a slew of violations, but residents are asked to take the restrictions seriously.

“While these restrictions are mandatory, we will begin with warnings and an informational campaign because the goal is voluntary compliance,” said Parker. “For those who insist on not being good neighbors, citations will follow.”

The City of Houston will also begin internal water-conservation measures, including the suspension of any scheduled window or power-washings, an audit of all irrigation systems for leaks, and the suspension of washing city vehicles or equipment except for health, safety or critical maintenance reasons.

The city has three main water reservoirs: Lake Livingston, Lake Houston and Lake Conroe.

Officials said because of the persistent drought conditions, they plan to start drawing water from Lake Conroe to stabilize the declining water level at Lake Houston.

It will be the first time the city has drawn water from Lake Conroe since 1988 — and only the third time in its history.

So far this summer, Lake Conroe has been losing about half a foot of water every month. Once the city starts drawing water, that will increase to more than a foot and a half a month.

In a news conference last week, Parker reminded concerned Lake Conroe property owners that the lake was built thanks to Houston taxpayers in the early 1960s.

“It is what it is,” Parker said. “There may be recreational impacts. We have to provide the necessary water to our population.”

After “Stage Two,” there are two, more serious levels of water rationing.

In the meantime, residents are also encouraged to take other water-conservation measures when possible, such as installing low-flow showerheads, faucet aerators and toilets, refraining from washing cars or filling swimming pools, limiting showers to five minutes, washing only full loads of dishes or clothes and turning off the water while brushing their teeth.





Fort Bend County parks hit hard by drought

18 08 2011

Several birds sit in mud where water has receded from a small body of water in Cullinan Park.

The drought continues in Fort Bend County.  Water systems across the County are beginning to implement restrictions on water usage.  Schools are beginning to implement response measures because of the extreme heat.  In my last entry, I shared information about the problems public works crews are facing as they attempt to maintain asphalt roads as temperatures soar about 100 degrees day after day. Affects are being felt everywhere— agriculture, water systems, ranching, grass fires, roads, and park systems.  This latter item is discussed below.

Below, please find an article written by Cory Stottlemyer, and published by yourfortbendnews.com on August 16, 2011. 

According to an Associated Press article from August 14, Texas is currently experiencing the most severe one-year drought on record, and July was the warmest month ever recorded for the state.

This extreme lack of rainfall has caused the death of many flora and fauna at county parks and has even driven down public turnout. Various parks and recreation departments in the county are struggling to find ways to combat the extreme heat yet conserve water.

Dead brown grass is located in the Four Corner’s Recreation Center’s baseball field.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Our crews are not able to maintain the parks properly because the grass is not growing; lots of stuff are dying,” Leticia Arriaga, Fort Bend County’s Parks and Recreation Coordinator, said. “We have some fish dying in one of our parks. We don’t see any of the animals that we used to see.”

While the summer has killed off some of the mosquitoes that typically plague this area, the county’s parks department has had to be careful watering many areas because they are run on well systems. According to Arreja, this has made landscaping nearly impossible.

“We can’t keep up with the watering of our greenery. A lake in one of our parks has lost about three feet of water. This has been the worst summer for us. A lot of people make reservations for our parks, and a lot of them don’t show up because it’s just too hot,” Arriaga said.

Sugar Land Parks and Recreation Department Assistant Director Joe Chesser said that the city’s athletic fields have been the most difficult to upkeep. Frequent use by sports leagues combined with the dry weather has created large cracks in the ground in parks with mostly clay soil. Landscaping these fields has become difficult for the department to do while also adhering to the city’s voluntary water schedule.

“Even with our sprinkler systems, we rely on mother nature to give us some water, and most summers we’ll at least get those late afternoon showers fairly regularly,” Chesser said. “Even though we’re a city department, we don’t have unlimited access to the water we have. Internally, we budget and pay for a water bill just like anyone else would. We basically used up the allotment in our budget for water in June.”

The city’s voluntary water schedule asks citizens to water no more than twice a week, something the parks department has tried to do. Since the water budget has been depleted, Chesser said cuts have been made in other areas. Frequent waterline breaks throughout the city caused by everything from shifting soil to lawn mowers damaging above-ground sprinklers have made conserving water even more difficult.

Grass at the Four Corner’s Recreation Center’s baseball field is mostly worn away and dead from this summer’s heat.

“We’ve kind of experienced more waterline and irrigation system breaks, and those breaks show up pretty quick when areas aren’t getting water. We’ve got our staff real busy just trying to keep up with the sprinkler systems,” Chesser said. “I wouldn’t say [the sports fields] are in good condition, but they’re in playable condition. They’re not to the level we strive to have them be in, but we’re keeping them green and most of our participants will understand the reason why the fields aren’t as lush as they usually are.”

 





Drought plays havoc with Fort Bend Roads

18 08 2011

The extreme heat and the lack of rain is beginning to take its toll on area roadways.  B.J. Pollock, correspondent with the Houston Chronicle, wrote an article that was published yesterday detailing the problems caused by the drought conditions; and as you will not in reading her article below, the problems will probably get worse before they get better.  As reported by Ms. Pollock:

The extended drought conditions in Texas have caused problems with some rural roads in Fort Bend County as the shifting dry ground splits open the pavement.

In addition, the drought has led to an extension of a county burn ban that has been in effect since April.

“Dry weather is the worst for roads; it takes a toll,” said County Road Commissioner Marc Grant. “The bad part is, when we do start getting rain, it’ll go down in the cracks to the subgrade and mess it up.”

Grant said the subgrade lies beneath the lime that is under the top layer of pavement, and that many long cracks are several feet deep.

Deterioration caused by moisture starts at the subgrade level and progresses to the surface. While reinforcement bars keep concrete roads from fracturing a little less than asphalt roads, it’s all susceptible to the drought.

“There’s just about no way to keep the roads from cracking anymore,” Grant said. “We’re going out every day, sealing cracks. You can’t seal all the cracks, but you try to seal as many as you possibly can.”

Crews are concentrating on the more well-traveled roads, and Grant said they’ve been repairing fissures for months. Of course, that takes money.

“The longer the drought, the more the monetary impact,” he said. “It’s financially a huge burden, and we won’t know the financial impact until after the rains come through.”

In some places, the sides of the roads appear to falling off. In those cases, said Grant, “When it rains, it’ll fall even more. Then we’ll come back and build it back up.”

He said the root systems of grass that’s popping up in many of the cracks actually helps hold the roads together.

“We’re always looking for new ways to seal cracks; ways that will help the integrity of our roadways,” he said. “I tell everybody, ‘If you can find a way to seal crack in this region, you’re going to make lots of money.'”

County commissioners enacted a burn ban April 26 and extended it at their July 12 meeting.

County Fire Marshal Vance Cooper said burn bans are only good for 90 days and then must be voted on again. He also said it would take about 10 inches of rain across the county to lift the ban.

Cooper said the Keetch-Byrum Drought Index, which is a scale for estimating the dryness of soil, shows Fort Bend County to be at 705, with any number higher than 500 indicating need for a burn ban. The scale runs from zero to 800. The higher the number, the more dry it is.

“In talking with the Forest Service, if we got an inch of rain, we’d be good for about 24 hours and then we’d basically be back to where we are now,” he said. “This drought did not happen overnight. It took several years to get where we are and it’ll take several years to get out.

 




First Colony MUD No. 9 Initiates Stage 2 Water Restrictions

17 08 2011

The other day I noted that Fort Bend County MUD 81 implemented Stage 1 water restrictions for its customers.  Yesterday, First Colony MUD No. 9 initiated Stage 2 of the District’s Drought Contingency Plan.  This was only done after the District had sent out voluntary water use notices in its water bills in May of this year, and again earlier this month.  As stated in the letter received by customers and residents of the District’s water system:

Water Use Restrictions for Demand Reduction.  Under threat of penalty for violation, the following water use restrictions shall apply to all persons:

  • Irrigation of landscape areas with hose-end sprinklers or automatic irrigation systems shall be limited to Sundays and Thursdays for customers with a street address ending in an even number (0, 2, 4, 6 or 8), and Saturdays and Wednesdays for water customers with a street address ending in an odd number (1, 3, 5, 7 or 9), and hose sprinkler/automatic irrigation of landscaped areas is further limited to the hours of 12:00 midnight until 10:00 a.m. and between 8:00 p.m. and 12:00 midnight on designated watering days.   However, irrigation of landscaped areas is permitted at any time if it is by means of a hand-held hose, a faucet filled bucket or watering can of five (5) gallons or less, or drip irrigation system.
  •  Use of water to wash any motor vehicle, motorbike, boat, trailer, airplane or other vehicle except on designated watering days between 12:00 midnight until 10:00 a.m. and between 8:00 p.m. and 12:00 midnight.  Such washing, when allowed, shall be done with a hand-held bucket or a hand-held hose equipped with a positive shutoff nozzle for quick rinses.  Vehicle washing may be done at any time on the immediate premises of a commercial car wash or commercial service station.  Further, such washing may be exempted from these regulations if the health, safety, and welfare of the public is contingent upon frequent vehicle cleansing, such as garbage trucks and vehicles used to transport food and perishables.
  • Use of water to fill, refill, or add to any indoor or outdoor swimming pools, wading pools, or Jacuzzi-type pools is prohibited except on designated watering days between the hours of 12:00 midnight until 10:00 a.m. and between 8:00 p.m. and 12:00 midnight.
  • Operation of any ornamental fountain or pond for aesthetic or scenic purposes is prohibited except where necessary to support aquatic life or where such fountains or ponds are equipped with a recirculation system.
  • Use of water from hydrants shall be limited to fire fighting, related activities, or other activities necessary to maintain public health, safety, and welfare, except that use of water from designated fire hydrants for construction purposes may be allowed under special permit from the District.
  • All restaurants are prohibited from serving water to patrons except upon request of the patron.

 The following uses of water are deemed as non-essential and are prohibited:

  1. Wash down of any sidewalks, walkways, driveways, parking lots, tennis courts, or other hard-surfaced areas;
  2. Use of water to wash down buildings or structures for purposes other than immediate fire protection;
  3. Use of water for dust control;
  4. Flushing gutters or permitting water to run or accumulate is any gutter or street; and
  5. Failure to repair a controllable leak(s) within a reasonable period after having been given notice directing the repair of such leak(s).




Fort Bend County MUD 81: Mild Drought Conditions in Effect; drought response measures being implemented

11 08 2011

As the drought across the State of Texas continues, there is a growing necessity to conserve water.  Fort Bend County MUD 81 (City of Weston Lakes) has announced today that they are implementing the first stage of its drought contingency plan.  At this point, customers in the municipal utility district boundaries are asked to voluntarily reduct water use, except the following activities shall be mandatory and not voluntary:

  • All outdoor water usage, including, but not limited to, lawn and garden watering, car washing, and window washing, shall be limited as follows:  1)  Only users with even-numbered addresses may use water outdoors on even-numbered days and only users with odd numbered addresses may use water outdoors on odd-numbered days.  In the event no street address exists, only users living on the north and west side of a street may use water outdoors on even-numbered days, and only users on the and east side of a street may use water outdoors on odd-numbered days, and 2) Outdoor water use shall be prohibited between the hours of 6:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m., and between the hours of 6:00 p.m. and 12:00 a.m. (midnight).




Fort Bend County Technical Rescue Team practices trench rescue techniques in City of Richmond

11 08 2011

As reported by Don Munsch and reported in the Fort Bend Herald on Wednesday, August 10, 2011, area firefighters who make up a County-wide Technical Rescue Team have been in training this week.  Top-notch instructors from Texas A&M have been leading the students with instruction on trench rescues.  Other training sessions will be taking place throughout 2011. 

The Fort Bend County Technical Rescue Team is a multi-jurisdictional effort to build an urban search and rescue capability that can be deployed in the Houston region if the need should arise.  The cost of the needed equipment and training is being paid for by federal homeland security funds which have been allocated to Fort Bend County. 

In addition to the Technical Rescue Team, homeland security funds have also funded the formation of two regional hazardous materials response teams and a regional mass casualty response team.  All these teams are based here in Fort Bend County providing excellent service the citizens of Fort Bend County and support assistance to the entire region.  Without the formation of all of these teams, response to certain types of disasters would not be as effective or as efficient. 

Related to the training being held this week, as reported by Munsch:

The victim was under some dirt at the bottom of the 8 1/2-foot trench at George Park in Richmond. Upon closer examination, the victim was missing part of his arm.

Emergency responders said the victim was breathing but not conscious. He was a worker tending to duties inside a trench, according to the public information officer at the scene.

Using various equipment, firefighters from Richmond and Rosenberg, Missouri City and Stafford rescued the victim Monday afternoon in about an hour and 20 minutes. Fire department training teams rescued the victim, a mannequin, in 100-degree temperatures.

“It’s a multi-agency task force that we have with the county and it’s part of the technical rescue training we have,” said Richmond Fire Department Lt. Chris McAnally, explaining the trench rescue training.

Firefighters train together about twice a year, he said.  Trainings sessions include structural collapse, trench rescue, confined space and rope rescue.

“We’ve got a simulated trench collapse here with a mannequin on the bottom simulating a victim,” he said.  McAnally said trench hole collapses are common with utility, electrical, underground and pipeline work.

“We had a trench collapse in Richmond in 2000 in the Office Depot parking lot,” he said. “There have been a few other ones since then, but that was a major one. It was an underground utility trench they were digging.”  Rescuers must simultaneously perform safety measures while maintaining their own safety.

“It’s a methodical process of shoring up to maintain safety to prevent further collapses,” McAnally said.