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LEGISLATIVE UPDATE


By MACK ARMSTRONG, HAA Legislative Committee Chair with ANDY TEAS, CAE, Vice President of Public Affairs


Water Shortage I


Public works offi- cials recently presented a draft of a drought ordinance that would clearly define four stages of drought and set rules and practices for each stage that would be predictable for city officials and water customers.


f you think running an apartment property is tough, you’re right. But consider the water and sewer operation run by the City of Houston Public Works Department. Clean water at the tap and the efficient removal of wastewater is


something citizens take for granted, but it’s a daunt- ing task. Houston treats and distributes more than 146 billion gallons of water per year – enough to fill the Astrodome four times per day. Houston is blessed with an abundant supply of treatable surface water, but our area continues to grow, even as rainfall continues to be unpredictable. Water is distributed (and wastewater collected) through 14,000 miles of water and sewer line, much of which has outlived its expected service life. It does- n’t help that these lines run through Houston’s clay soil, which expands and contracts depending on the level of moisture. Houston’s soil does to underground pipes what it does to your apartment building foun- dations. During last summer’s drought, Houston had more water and sewer line breaks than the city could manage, even with crews working around the clock.


DEFINING DROUGHT Public works officials recently presented a draft of a


drought ordinance to Houston City Council members. The proposal would clearly define four stages of drought and set particular rules and management practices for each stage that would be predictable for city officials and for water customers. Stage 1 (“Abnormal”) would be a cautionary phase, generally where rainfall is lower than average, with temperatures outside of normal parameters. Citizens would be asked to follow voluntary guidelines to check for leaks and to follow a schedule to limit land- scape irrigation to two specific days per week (Tuesdays and Fridays for apartment properties). Stage 2 (“Severe”) would occur if the city reached


24 months or less of surface water supply, demand above 80 percent of treatment capacity or system


Houston considers an ordinance to deal with the lingering drought. Water is the driving force of all nature. – Leonardo da Vinci


water pressure lower than 45 psi. During a Stage 2 event, citizens would be required to follow the irriga- tion schedule suggested as a voluntary measure dur- ing Stage 1. Stage 3 (“Extreme”) would mean 18 months or less


of surface water supply, demand above 85 percent of treatment capacity or water pressure below 40 psi. During a Stage 3 event, most outdoor water use would be prohibited altogether. Stage 4 (“Exceptional”) would occur if the city reached 12 months or less of surface water supply, demand above 90 percent of treatment capacity or water pressure below 35 psi. At Stage 4, most outdoor water use is strictly prohibited. Additionally, it would be unlawful for a single-family customer to use more than 4,000 gallons per month or for a multifamily property to use more than 4,000 gallons per unit per month. Violations would mean a fine of $1,000 to $2,000, and customers using more than 10 percent beyond their allowed usage would pay a 20 percent water bill surcharge “for the current and two subse- quent billing periods.”


OUR CONCERNS HAA supports the city’s efforts, but we have raised


several concerns with City Council about the way water customers are penalized in a Stage 4 event. In Houston, the property owner is the "customer" as far as the city is concerned and would bear full responsi- bility for water usage, as well as for the fees and penalties described above. However, multifamily property owners – unlike other water customers – do not have control over the amount of water used by residents. Owners are generally prohibited by state law from cutting off water to a unit, even in the case of an angry resident facing eviction who decides to turn on all his sink and bathtub faucets 24 hours a day in retaliation. Certainly we hope this would be a rare occurrence,


but the ordinance needs an affirmative defense that says, basically, you’re a multifamily property owner See LEGISLATIVE, Page 29


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