Concern growing about region's future water needs
The Edwards Aquifer Authority is currently under a Stage 4 critical period management permit reduction for permit holders in Uvalde County.
Edwards groundwater permit holders within Uvalde County are required to reduce their annual authorized pumping by 35%.
The Edwards Aquifer has dipped to its lowest level since 1990. Years of drought and increased demand from a growing population have taken a toll on San Antonio’s main water source.
The EAA’s jurisdiction covers eight counties: Uvalde, Medina, Bexar and portions of Atascosa, Caldwell, Guadalupe, Comal and Hays counties.
The water level for the Edwards Aquifer is measured at the J-17 well, which was drilled at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston in 1914. Since 1932, the U.S. Geological Survey has taken continuous measurements of the aquifer at the well. The vast amount of historical data makes the J-17 well valuable, and its measurements are very reliable.
For customers of the San Antonio Water System, Stage 2 restrictions remain in place.
Although the Edwards Aquifer is SAWS’s main source of water, the utility uses other water sources as well.
According to the city-owned water utility, “SAWS is able to meet the Edwards Aquifer Authority (EAA) requirements through conservation and SAWS water supply portfolio consisting of 14 water projects from eight different sources. The utility’s diverse non-Edwards Aquifer water supplies and customer compliance with Stage 2 rules will make up for the reduced Edwards pumping requirements from EAA. However, for this to succeed, customers must follow Stage 2 watering rules.”
SAWS officials said customers can expect increased patrol and ticket citations in areas where portions of the water system show tank levels dropping overnight beyond normal demand.
First-time offenders will receive a citation with municipal court fines of up to $150. More than 3,000 citations have been issued for water waste so far this year.
The extreme heat, lack of rain and high customer demand is leading to a wave of water pipe ruptures for SAWS. SAWS has 52 crews working around the clock responding to main breaks as quickly as possible while still working to keep the crews safe in this extreme heat. Precautions include alternating between two crews to provide each 30-minute breaks to rehydrate when temps are above 100 degrees and mandatory 15-minute breaks every hour when temps are below triple digits.
Repairing all leaks is a priority but given the extremely high numbers prioritizing leaks is necessary. Customers can see a graphic explanation of the leak priorities, as well as the site for reported leaks on the SAWS leak and outage map.
Trying to secure a sustainable water future for the San Antonio – Austin mega metro region is beginning to look bleaker with the reality of climate change coming in focus and the non-stop development putting more stress on already stained water systems.
The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment at Texas State University will host a “Climate Science: The Good, The Bad, and The Wicked” conference on September 7 to define and address the unique climate change challenges in Texas.
Roland Ruiz is the General Manager of the Edwards Aquifer Authority.
Karen Guz is the San Antonio Water Systems Director of Conservation.
Mona Wells is the Climate Science Director at The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment at Texas State University.
Martha Pskowski is the Texas-based reporter for Inside Climate News.
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