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Collin County is growing, and that could raise water costs

A bee lands on a native plant in Rodney Thomas’ yard Tuesday, July 25, 2023, in McKinney. Thomas says he rarely waters the native plants that are thriving in the summer heat.
Yfat Yossifor
/
KERA
A bee lands on a native plant in Rodney Thomas’ yard Tuesday, July 25, 2023, in McKinney. Thomas says he rarely waters the native plants that are thriving in the summer heat.

Water is a finite and scarce resource. And in North Texas, climate change and a growing population could mean an increase in your water bill.

Collin County is the third fastest growing county in the nation according to the U.S. Census Bureau. All that population growth is driving up water usage in the area.

The North Texas Municipal Water District told KERA that households in its service region are actually using less water, on average. But 55,000 people move into the area each year, driving up water usage.

Now, the district is looking at increasing its rates for the first time in three years, going up to $3.69 per 1,000 gallons of water for member cities. It's not a huge increase, only thirty cents more than the current rate.

For the average Plano home, which used 6,280 gallons of water each year in 2021, that would add about $23 per year to the water bill.

Member cities can add to the North Texas Municipal Water District fee for their residents. Plano is considering increasing its local add-on charge later this year, which would also increase water bills.

And a lot of that bill is paying to keep lawns green.

Robert Mace, the executive director of the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment, said about a third of Texans’ water usage is for watering lawns. That’s likely to increase because climate change is making North Texas hotter and drier.

“We're having to water our plants more because of those increased temperatures, and the fact it hasn't rained in quite a while,” Mace said. “So all this serves to increase demand for water, which further puts stress on the water system.”

There are ways people can use less water to maintain their lawns. Rodney Thomas, president of the Collin County chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas, said growing plants that are adapted to the North Texas prairie ecosystem can help. These plants have deeper roots, so they can get moisture from the soil when there’s no rain.

Thomas said he hasn’t had to turn his sprinklers on this year.

“We've had a lot of rain [earlier in the year], so everything is still doing good,” he said.

Marianne Lanphier of Richardson went even further, embracing an approach called xeriscaping – basically eliminating her grass lawn.

“The first thing I did was get rid of the grass because I wanted no grass, and I wanted no sprinkler system,” Lanphier said.

Her lawn has decomposed granite with cactus gardens spread throughout. In the spring, there are bluebonnets.

But there are limits to what many people in Collin County can do to their lawns.

Most homes in Collin County are under a homeowner’s association. And a lot of HOAs require grasses that are native to tropical regions, not North Texas. They’re used to more frequent rainfall and aren’t adapted to periods of drought and high heat like we’re having now. So to give the non-native grass the water it needs, people have to run their sprinklers.

Thomas’ HOA requires him to keep at least 60% Bermuda grass in his front yard.

“The only reason I ran the sprinklers last year was to keep the Bermuda alive so I wouldn't get a note from the HOA saying I have a brown yard,” Thomas said.

HOA policies are set by board members voted into office by residents. There are other policies that can be set at a higher level, including increasing government efficiency standards for dishwashers and other appliances. Consumers can also choose more efficient appliances to save water, like those with the EPA’s WaterSense label.

If the rate hike goes through, most people who live in the North Texas Municipal Water District will see a higher water bill starting October 1. But biologist Rudi Thompson from the University of North Texas says it’ll impact residential users harder than the biggest water consumers: Large corporations and businesses.

“I think so often, it hits the individual instead of the big water users,” Thompson said. “It's not a family of four that is a big water user.”

She also said people with less money to spare will be impacted the most.

“Those are some of the social issues that come into play that we have to be careful with when we're talking about increasing the price of water,” Thompson said. “Are you then really still distancing the haves and the have nots?”

At the end of the day, it’s only a 30-cent increase. Thompson said water in North Texas is still relatively cheap and abundant compared to other places. So people might not change their behaviors even if the cost of water goes up.

Got a tip? Email Caroline Love at clove@kera.org.

Caroline Love is a Report For Americacorps member for KERA News.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gifttoday. Thank you.

Caroline Love covers Collin County for KERA and is a member of the Report for America corps. Previously, Caroline covered daily news at Houston Public Media. She has a master's degree from Northwestern University with an emphasis on investigative social justice journalism. During grad school, she reported three feature stories for KERA. She also has a bachelor's degree in journalism from Texas Christian University and interned with KERA's Think in 2019.