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City Council approves SAWS drought rules to crack down on violators and high water users

Members of the San Antonio City Council discussing the new proposed SAWS drought rules on Thursday.
Valentina Barrera-Ibarra
Members of the San Antonio City Council discussing the new proposed SAWS drought rules on Thursday.

The San Antonio City Council unanimously approved new San Antonio Water Systems (SAWS) drought rules that are intended to increase water savings while minimizing the inconvenience for most SAWS customers.

At a SAWS briefing to council on the new rules last week, SAWS Vice President of Conservation Karen Guz said the vast majority of customers follow the drought rules.

“Fundamentally, most of it is about getting savings from about 10% more of the community,” Guz said. “Most people are doing what we ask them to do, and we’re trying in these changes not to inconvenience those folks further.”

That includes getting customers who live outside of San Antonio city limits to follow the rules. Municipal citations for violating the drought rules, which could not be imposed on non-San Antonio residents, have now been converted into non-compliance charges on customers’ water bills.

SAWS will also impose increased charges for repeat rule violators: $137 for the first violation, $225 for the second violation, and $500 for the third violation. The charges are even higher for large irrigation customers.

The new rules affect watering hours, drip irrigation, non-San Antonio resident fines, and high water users.

Guz said moving away from municipal citations will also make the dispute process faster.

“The system we’ve proposed simplifies things, really,” she said. “It actually makes it easier for a customer who gets a violation notice to give us a call and say, ‘Show me everything. I want to understand.’ They can now call SAWS, and we will happily review the case notes with them.”

In an effort to reduce the impact on most customers, SAWS has also removed the mandatory twice-per-month watering limitations for Stage 3 drought and placed those restrictions in an optional emergency Stage 4. To compensate for that, SAWS will also impose a high use surcharge on residential customers who use more than 20,000 gallons of water each month.

Those customers, roughly 5% of the entire customer base, will have to pay an additional $10.37 for each 1,000 gallons they use beyond 20,000 gallons.

According to Guz, even a slight change by these high water users would result in a lot of saved water.

Drought watering times will also change to start and end a bit earlier in the morning, and then start and end a bit later in the evening.

New Stage 1 hours are now before 10:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. to midnight.

New Stage 2 hours are now 5:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. to midnight.

Guz said users who use a hose instead of an automatic sprinkler can request an exception, or “variance,” to the rules by reaching out to SAWS directly.

SAWS Vice President of Conservation Karen Guz.
Valentina Barrera-Ibarra
SAWS Vice President of Conservation Karen Guz.

SAWS is also implementing new weekly use restrictions on drip irrigation systems. Drip systems can now only be used four times per week in Stage 1, twice per week in Stages 2 and 3, and once per week in Stage 4. Previously, there were no restrictions on drip irrigation.

Drip irrigation plans at new home builds will also be reviewed by SAWS beginning in January 2025 to ensure they follow irrigation rules.

The new rules are intended to cut back 10% on water usage, or about 3.8 billion gallons each year. SAWS said overuse of irrigation alone makes up nearly 3 billion gallons of excess water usage annually.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg said the new rules chart a needed path forward.

“I feel good about where we’re landing with this drought management plan given the stakes of our water supply going forward and the events and extreme weather we’re experiencing,” he said.

The watering time rules go into effect immediately, but the new non-compliance charges and high use surcharge won’t begin to be applicable until July 6.

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