Track apps

Fort Worth uses digital counters to track who’s breaking water restrictions

FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) Fort Worth is using its new digital water meters during the ongoing drought to figure out who’s probably trying to keep their grass green on days they’re not supposed to.

The first batch of 6,000 postcards came out last week telling home and business owners that the data showed they might be breaking the city’s rule against watering their gardens on Mondays. This is merely an information notice, not a warning that could potentially result in a fine or water cut off.

Fort Worth has had permanent water restrictions in place since 2014. Properties are assigned two days a week when landscape watering is permitted, and never on Mondays.

In the past, the city relied on complaints to identify people breaking the rules, but new digital water meters installed across the city mean the city doesn’t have to wait for someone call.

The meters send back water data wirelessly. Customers can now monitor their daily and hourly water usage via an app, alerting them to high usage rates or leaks.

The city is also able to see high utilization rates at times when it doesn’t match. Rates of 300 gallons per hour on a Monday indicated that someone had likely turned on the sprinklers, triggering an advisory.

“The carrot rather than the stick has always been our approach to trying to achieve compliance,” said Mary Gugliuzza, spokeswoman for the water department. “And that’s all we’re trying to do is target him.”

She said it was similar to the notices sent to customers when data showed 24-hour water usage, a sign of a possible leak.

One of the notices appeared in the mailbox of David May’s house, south of the city. He put new grass in May and watered every day until June.

For the past few weeks, he’s been running sprinklers for his shrubs and flower beds every night for 10 minutes, trying to keep them alive in the 100° heat. Since he got the card, the system is now off on Mondays.

“For me, they are threatening with a fine,” he said.

Fines can be up to $2,000, but would first require an official warning according to the order. Someone would likely still need to see the breach, Gugliuzza said, to write a citation, but the data could potentially be used to tell staff where to watch.

The situation is not there yet, she said. It is possible that if water levels reach Stage 1 drought conditions in September, information maps could be extended to properties that appear to be watering on bad days, which are based on odd or even addresses.