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Dont Flush Texas Drought*

Texas drought order: Don't flush

Images of the drought in Electra, Texas, where the water supply is down to its last 45 days

Towns rush to keep water flowing before it runs out

August 1, 2000

Web posted at: 12:36 p.m. EDT (1636 GMT)

ELECTRA, Texas (CNN) -- You know the drought is bad when watering your lawn can bring a fine of up to $500. But that's not the worst of it in Electra, a small North Texas town where the local lake is drying up and the water supply is down to its last 45 days.

To conserve what little water is left, people here are being asked to use their toilets five times before flushing. "We've had to ration before, but nothing this drastic," says Joe Youree, a resident of Electra, 145 miles northwest of Dallas.

With the Texas drought in its third year, nearly 200 communities, both urban and rural, have imposed water restrictions. Some have issued outdoor burn bans, and the Guadalupe River is being patrolled to make sure none of its water is illegally siphoned off.

Counties covering three-quarters of the state were declared disaster areas by Gov. George W. Bush, who last week asked for federal help in fighting wildfires.

'Desperate situation'

Residents of Electra are limited to 1,000 gallons of water per person, per month. The average American uses more than half that every month just flushing the toilet.

"We're in a desperate situation here," says Glen Branch, the water commissioner of Electra, a town of 3,000 in Wichita County. "Watering your lawn, watering your flower beds is kind of like committing murder," he told CNN.

Facing the threat it will run out of water, Electra hopes to complete a water purification system that will allow the reopening of 10 wells shut down a decade ago because of contamination.

Volunteers build emergency backup pipeline

To the south, in equally water-threatened Throckmorton, work is nearing completion on a 21-mile pipeline to the neighboring community of Graham, which has agreed to provide an emergency backup water supply.

An $800,000 state grant is being used to pay for the pipeline, which is being built by an army of volunteers working at times in 100-degree-plus temperatures as they dig a 4-foot-deep trench.

Don Peck, 68, is one of the many volunteers who have come forward to help Throckmorton with its water problems.

"It's a chance to help other people when you know they really need it," says Peck, a retired chemical engineer who drove 260 miles from Longview, Texas, to lend his expertise to the project. "Without water, you can't do much of anything."

Those who live in Throckmorton know that well. Many residents began buying water from other sources and hauling it to their homes months ago. Others have had to sell off or keep moving their cattle because there just isn't enough water or green pasture to keep the livestock healthy.

"People in the city turn on their faucet and the water works and they take it for granted," says Throckmorton resident Byron Parrott. "We have families out here using the same water to take baths in."

That kind of lesson is being learned in Electra, too -- by the water commissioner.

"I thought many a times, 'How could I be so dumb that there will always be water,'" Branch says. "But, you know, a situation like this is what wakes people up."

CNN Correspondent Charles Zewe and The Associated Press contributed to this report, written by Jim Morris.

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