Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

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April 12, 2012

Texas hopes to learn lessons from searing drought

AUSTIN — When Susan Combs was growing up on her family's West Texas ranch, conserving water was part of everyday life: If the windmill wasn't turning and the storage tank at least half full, the household plumbing was turned off — even the toilets.

In her political career, Combs has been urging Texans to save water for years, first as a lawmaker, then as agriculture commissioner and now as state comptroller. After the worst one-year drought in state history, people finally seem to be listening.

Combs and other officials have reason to hope that lessons from the drought could change the state's attitudes about water usage. And from Dallas to far-flung ranches and rice farms, they are trying to capitalize on the heightened awareness by adopting conservation plans that will ease the next crisis.

"From a water-supply perspective, we are just not prepared," Combs said. "If each town and city doesn't come up with a successful water plan, the state will be worse off for it."

The drought that began more than a year ago is finally breaking in parts of Texas. Spring rains have turned the grass green, quenched thirsty trees and started to fill reservoirs. But state and local officials aren't content to watch the parched landscape change color. They want to analyze the dry spell and assess what worked, what failed and what needs improvement. A few examples:

— The mayors of Dallas and Fort Worth and suburban Arlington and Irving are asking their city councils to consider making permanent the twice-a-week maximum watering restrictions that have been in place for several months. "Conservation has to be a very, very big part of our long-range water preparations," explained Yvonne Dupre, drought response coordinator for Dallas.

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