in Houston, Texas
City of Houston may spend $4.5 million to remove trees that succumbed to record-breaking drought
Tuesday, Sep 27, 2011, 03:49PM CST
By Mike Cronin
Houston City Hall

The worst one-year Texas drought on record has Houston city officials scrambling to save water and trees, and the Houston Chronicle’s Chris Moran reports today on the toll no rain is taking on ecosystems and taxpayer budgets alike:

The drought's length and intensity have become so acute the city has to throw unbudgeted money at it. City Council on Wednesday is scheduled to consider a request by the Houston Parks and Recreation Department for $4.5 million to remove 15,000 dead trees from city parks and esplanades, an amount nearly 13 times what the city spends dragging away dead trees in an average year.
No discussions among Mayor Annise Parker's staff members are being held at this time about the possibility of seeking state or federal emergency- or disaster-relief funds to alleviate the drought’s effects on Houston, said Janice Evans, a spokeswoman for the mayor.

“At this point, there’s no next step,” Evans told Texas Watchdog. “The goal is to get people to comply with the water restrictions in place, which we’re having success with.”

Those restrictions include repairing leaks within 72 hours of discovery and watering outdoors only two days a week. Parker has declared a local disaster to enforce bans on smoking or using grills in Houston parks, and her administration made water-use restrictions mandatory last month.

Parks and Rec spokeswoman Estella Espinoza told Texas Watchdog in an interview that the department:
  • Is watering landmark groves such as the oaks near Hermann Park and will continue to do this for the foreseeable future.
  • Is using 21 trucks to water these landmark groves across the city on a rotating basis. Sites scheduled for watering include: Memorial Park, Hermann Park, Buffalo Bayou Park, Cleveland Park, Camp Logan Park, the Memorial Triangle, East and West T.C. Jester Parkway, Wilson Memorial Park, Freeway Manor Park, Reveille Park, Gulf Palms Park, Milby Park, Melrose Park and Golf Course, Clark Park, Tuffly Park, Cullen Park, Northline Park, Irvington Park, Keith-Wiess Park, Swiney Park, Independence Heights Park, American Legion Park, McCullough Park, Stuebner-Airline Park, Tidwell Park, and the Wallisville Arbor Day esplanades.
  • Has used more than 213,000 gallons of water since the first week of September to quench the thirst of 70 parks and about 11,000 trees.
  • Is asking residents to assist by watering the street trees in front of their homes on their designated watering days.
"We're a city that normally experiences a great deal of rain,” Parker said. “Most of our parks do not have watering systems. We don't routinely water trees in the public domain. We had to secure water trucks. We had to set up a watering protocol, had to get the people to drive the trucks."

In fact, the Parks Department only owns four water trucks. They've rented, borrowed or modified 17 more to respond to the drought.

There are also only four people on staff who are qualified to inspect trees and determine whether they are dead.
Perhaps most frightening, however, is that Texas and its residents might be at only the beginning of a decades-long drought -- something that’s occurred many times throughout the centuries, according to an op-ed in last month’s New York Times by Richard Parker, a Texas journalist who writes for McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

“As bad as this year’s drought is, the long view tells us that things could get much worse,” he writes.
 
***
Contact Mike Cronin at mike@texaswatchdog.org or 713-228-2850. Follow him on Twitter at @michaelccronin or @texaswatchdog.

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Photo: A Hertz rental tanker truck with a Houston Parks logo on the door gives a drink to a thirsty pine in Memorial Park Friday. Jennifer Peebles/Texas Watchdog.
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