Lingering drought affects some school campuses

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Associated Press

Posted on April 21, 2014 at 3:02 PM

AMARILLO, Texas (AP) — Some Texas Panhandle school districts have dug wells or installed artificial turf to keep athletic fields and campuses green in response to water prices rising since the 2011 drought.

Les Hoyt, chief financial officer of the Amarillo Independent School District, says school officials began looking for ways to conserve water about 10 years ago. The district back then used about 500 million gallons annually.

Amarillo ISD installed watering systems that monitor the weather and adjust for conditions, took on landscaping projects that don't need irrigation and added artificial turf athletic fields at all of its high schools, saving several million gallons of water a year on each campus, Hoyt said.

Amarillo ISD's water use was down to about 356 million gallons last year, but the cost for that water rose, the Amarillo Globe-News (http://bit.ly/1rfdtil ) reported Sunday.

During fiscal 2010 and 2011, Amarillo ISD was on a flat rate for irrigation — $2.90 per thousand gallons in fiscal 2010 — rather than the city's progressive rate that charges customers higher rates for using more water. Four years later, the district's irrigation rate reached a rate of $4.65 per thousand gallons.

"Water rates have affected us dramatically from a budgetary standpoint," Hoyt said. "We know there will be an escalation every year in the rate, so we take that into consideration when we're building the budget."

Other area districts are also dealing with drought conditions and rising water costs.

"It's something we're really cognizant of," said Randy McDowell, assistant superintendent of Canyon Independent School District. "We want to save all the water that we can. At the same time, we've got a lot of facilities, and our communities and our taxpayers don't want to pull up and see all dirt but you have to find a balance there."

Canyon ISD in 2011 drilled two wells at Canyon and Randall high schools for about $75,000 each, McDowell said. The wells deliver water for 10 percent the cost of city water. CISD has since added two more $70,000 wells to reduce water costs at two other schools.

Potter County remains in an exceptional drought and Randall County in extreme drought, according to last week's report from the U.S. Drought Monitor.

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Information from: Amarillo Globe-News, http://www.amarillo.com

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