My first real exposure to the San Antonio Water System was when I was working with a chain of clinics here several years ago. The clinic I managed had a small patch of garden that I struggled to keep some other shade than brown through the summer. One day as I watered the patch of brown i laughingl called the “garden” one of our patients — who turned out to be a SAWS employee — came and threatened me within an inch of my life if I didn’t stop watering on the wrong day at the wrong time.
I probably shouldn’t have laughed at her. I grew up near the Great Lakes, where water restrictions are strange and mythical things best left to fairly tales. Eventually I caught on she was serious, and stopped watering as she stomped away furious to report me to my boss.
Which lead to an interesting series of conversations, you can imagine.
The San Antonio Express-News has an article on the water restrictions. Some highlights:
On Saturday, for the first time since 2006, the water level in the Edwards Aquifer dipped below 650 feet, triggering Stage 2 water restrictions. City Manager Sheryl Sculley declared them in effect Monday. This is the earliest in the season since 2000 that the aquifer has dipped below 650 feet.
“It’s concerning that the aquifer is already below 650 and we’re only in mid-June because we have potentially a lot of hot days to come,” said Karen Guz, conservation director of the San Antonio Water System. “If we don’t get rain, the aquifer will continue to drop. What we’re trying to do is slow that rate of drop.”
As opposed to finding new sources of water for metropolitan San Antonio. more on that later.
Stage 1 water restrictions, which had been in effect since April 10, limit lawn watering to one day per week. Stage 2 restrictions do not further limit the number of days residents are allowed to water, but they do shorten the amount of time watering is allowed.
Stage 2 allows watering between 3 a.m. and 8 a.m. and between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. on the same designated days as in Stage 1. Also allowed is washing cars in residential driveways during designated days and times. Watering lawns by hand-held hoses is allowed anytime.
Like a hand-held hose makes any significant difference.
Guz said there is a “very strong possibility” of Stage 3 restrictions, which occur if the aquifer drops below 640 feet. At Stage 3, residents keep the same hours of watering, but must limit watering to every other week.
The aquifer has been below 640 feet, most recently in 2000. But last year the trigger levels for each stage were increased by 10 feet; so in 2000 it was considered Stage 2.
And the year after 2000 we had record floods in San Antonio and surrounding areas. Plus we do get hurricanes from time to time, which does wonders for the Aquifer level.
San Antonians have never been asked to reduce watering to every other week, but Guz said that without a unified effort, they may be asked to do so soon. Once a set of restrictions is implemented, it is in place a minimum of 30 days.
Whether we get rain during that time or not. Seig Heil, baby.
Under Stage 2, operators of parks, golf courses and athletic fields must submit a conservation plan to SAWS.
I talked to a greenskeeper at a San Antonio golf course once who told me that his “conservation plan” was to “Encourage staff to take bathroom braks outdoors whenver possible.” SAWS never responded to his plan.
Public fountains can operate only if recycled water is used, and hotels and motels must initiate a “linen change upon request only” program.
“Recycled Water” may be a euphemism for “encouraging outdoor bathroom breaks” for all I know.
Those who fail to heed these guidelines, if caught by police, will face fines ranging from $50 to $100 for first-time offenders and up to $1,000 for multiple offenses. “Just as you cannot ignore a traffic violation, you cannot ignore any municipal ticket for water waste,” Guz said.
BexarMet enforces the same restrictions, but not only to those affected by the aquifer’s low levels. “We enforce the same rules with all of our customers, even those who do not use the Edwards Aquifer, in an effort to conserve water in the region,” said Nathan Riggs, manager for water efficiency and community relations with BexarMet.
The official aquifer level of the Bexar County index well Monday was 648.7 feet.
The kicker to all this is that SAWS has had two excellent opportunities to expand their water sources over the years and failed to act on them. The first was when Canyon Lake Dam was built in the 1950’s, and SAWS failed to act to secure any of the water rights to the reservoir. The second is a plan that’s been floating around for years to build a massive desalination plant (like the ones in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the UAE) to purify sea water and pipe it north to San Antonio. As recently as last year former mayor Phil Hardaberger floated a plan to do this, but the vicous inter-city rivalries tore theidea to shred quickly.
Meanwhile, little old abuelitas (grandmas) on the west side are watering their gardens with hand-held hoses in the heat.
Personally, I don’t mind the restrictions when there’s aplan we’re working towards. But without a plan, it;s more like we’re conserving deck chairs on the Titanic for “future uses.”
SAWS; grow a spine and get a plan. Pretty Please?