It looks like the summer of 2011 might just be one for the books. And while it's always exciting to set new records, there are downsides, too. Things like water usage restrictions due to drought management programs.

As I write this, we're still in the "Normal" status according to the City of Wichita Falls. Even so, it's time to seriously consider your water usage.

Long, hot, dry summers are no stranger to Wichita Falls, and four stages of drought management plans are in place to deal with the situation as it develops from year to year. By the time this summer is over we'll probably be well acquainted with several of them.

A Stage 1 Drought Watch is enacted when the combined levels of Lakes Kickapoo and Arrowhead drop to 60%. The public is alerted to the possibility of water shortages and the city cuts back it's watering schedule.

When the combined levels of the lakes reach 50% a Stage 2 Drought Warning kicks in. At this stage specific regulations are in place that cover all Wichita Falls residents, limiting the times and days that they can water their yards. It also becomes illegal to wash a vehicle anywhere other than a commercial car wash.

If the combined lake levels drop to 40% a Stage 3 Drought Emergency is declared. Water usage is even more restricted and businesses like car washes and swimming pools have their hours of operation cut back. Surcharges are also levied against individuals and businesses with excessive water use.

The final stage, Stage 4 Drought Disaster, takes place when the combined levels of Lakes Arrowhead and Kickapoo drop to 30% capacity. At this stage there is a total ban on nonessential outdoor water use.

Has Wichita Falls ever been to Stage 4 Drought Disaster levels? I don't know. And I hope we don't find ourselves there any time soon.

Dave D.