Houston to discuss water rationing today

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Sept. 7, 2000, 2:55PM

Houston to discuss water rationing today County expands burning ban By STEVE BREWER Copyright 2000 Houston Chronicle

With drought conditions reaching an all-time high, Houston's mayor called an emergency council meeting today to discuss the possibility of mandatory water rationing, and Harris County strengthened its ban on outdoor burning.

Mayor Lee Brown scheduled the council session for 4 p.m. to decide what water restrictions are needed to deal with "serious water problems."

In its own emergency session earlier in the day, Harris County Commissioners Court voted 2-1 in emergency session today to prohibit all residents and businesses in unincorporated areas from burning trash outdoors. The previous restriction had allowed people without garbage pickup service to burn their trash outdoors.

The county ban applies only to unincorporated areas, but nearly all municipalities in the county, including Houston, permanently ban outdoor burning.

Commissioner Steve Radack dissented, saying he had problems with how the emergency meeting was posted and was not convinced the new measures were needed at this point.

County Judge Robert Eckels and Commissioner Jerry Eversole voted for the expanded ban. Eversole joined the meeting by teleconference.

County Fire Marshal Fred Windisch's request to strengthen the ban was based partly on Keetch-Byram Drought Index readings. The index ranks conditions, with 800 being the worst drought possible and anything above 500 labeled a drought.

As of Saturday, Windisch said, the county's reading was 758, the highest ever recorded locally, and it puts the area in what the statistical index calls "extreme fire danger" -- any reading between 600 and 800.

The drought was considered so urgent that Harris County commissioners had wanted to implement the burning ban Wednesday at another emergency meeting. But the meeting was improperly posted, which led County Attorney Mike Fleming to later declare that the action taken was null and void.

Also on Wednesday, Mayor Brown had urged people to voluntarily limit their water use, especially outdoors. If they did not, he warned he would convene City Council to declare an emergency situation.

Brown said he would consider asking City Council to declare a water emergency if water use averages 567 million gallons or more a day for three days. If the mandatory restrictions are adopted, households that fail to reduce consumption by 20 percent of their average monthly usage would have to pay a surcharge on top of their monthly water bill.

In Friendswood, a north Galveston County community, officials implemented mandatory water rationing Wednesday.

Te city's daily water consumption exceeded 9.88 million gallons over the last three days, said City Manager Ron Cox said. The city's average daily water consumption is 4 million gallons, he said.

Residents in July were placed on voluntary water rationing. The same outdoor recommendations apply, although now a violation could result in a fine.

Violators face a written warning for the first offense. Repeat offenders found guilty face a possible $200 fine and are subject to having their service disconnected.

Chronicle reporters Rachel Graves and Ruth Rendon contributed to this story. http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/story.hts/metropolitan/659424

-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), September 08, 2000

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