AUSTIN (KXAN) - Amid wide ranging water restrictions in Central Texas, a contractor at an Austin-area construction site has been using thousands of gallons of potable water for weeks, even in the middle of the day to grow grass on a busy right-of-way.
KXAN learned the watering, up to two hours a day was to revegetate a section of land along Ranch Road 620 at Bullock Hollow Road after a pipe-replacement project.
We showed Austin’s Kathy McWhorter video of the sprinklers turned on.
“I’ve been visiting places on Lake Travis where there’s no water where I used to swim in deep coves. It’s so alarming what I’m seeing, that this is really hard to see,” she said.
But City of Austin environmental managers said the non-profit water district behind the project had the option to wait several months, covering the disturbed dirt with matting or mulch to keep it in place and watering when it was cooler.
“They could have waited,” conceded Russell Lewis, manager at the City of Austin environmental compliance division which happened to oversee this project since it was in Austin city territory. “One of the things we've instituted is a policy that allows (contractors) more time to establish the vegetation. A lot of the projects choose to do it in the fall when it's not so hot and they're not requiring as much water to get it started.”
A couple weeks ago, a tip to the KXAN ReportIt line pointed out industrial-sized sprinklers spraying water from a local hydrant owned by the Water Control Improvement District 17 in Travis County.
Over one three-week period, WCID 17’s General Manager Debbie Gernes told KXAN the entity used 50,800 gallons of its own water to get the revegetation started.
That is enough water to fill four family swimming pools. Gernes pointed out the average family home can use as much as 25,000 gallons during the summer.
But unlike private commercial or residential applicants involved in a major construction project, the WCID, overseen by the state is exempt from watering restrictions since it is considered a governmental entity.
It can use as much water as is needed to finish a construction project and its landscaping and get it off the books.
Gernes told KXAN in an email that “grass must be grown for permanent revegetation. Watering for a short period of time is the most cost effective way to accomplish this.”
That pipe project the water district was working on? an emergency interconnect for use in nearby Steiner Ranch if firefighters ever have to respond to a major fire. Several homes burned in the dry summer of 2011.
As for the contractor working the site - after a city inspector spoke to him about watering in the middle of the day, he agree to put a timer on the sprinklers so watering can happen in the middle of the night when it's cooler and less water is bound to evaporate.
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