For The Answer
Submitted by Calvin Finch, Ph.D., Manager, Conservation Division, Water Resources & Conservation Department, SAWS, and Horticulturist
San Antonio Water Restrictions
For the first six months of 2002 San Antonians are pumping five percent less water than we did in 2001. The amazing thing is that 2001 was a record low pumping year. The weather was cooler and we received well-timed rains. By the end of 2001 we reached an excellent per capita rate of 143 gallons/day. It is the lowest rate of any large city in Texas (over 25 percent less than Austin and 40 percent less than Dallas) and probably lower than any large city in the West.
It appears that the reductions are due to a combination of conservation activities. The SAWS Water Saver Awards held at the Weston Riverwalk last week recognized 10 businesses and homeowners that saved a combination of 100 million gallons of water per year. The award winners included technological changes (P & O Cold Logistics) and educational programs (Northeast ISD). USAA converted their irrigation system from potable water to recycled water and two homeowners, Charlie and Bonnie Conner and Dr. Kelly Knape, installed rainwater-harvesting systems. Service clubs associated with the Southside ISD hosted a Saturday conservation event where nearly 500 area residents took home low-flow toilets to replace their old high-flow toilets.
It is also obvious that San Antonians are watering their lawns less by using the SIP (Seasonal Irrigation Program) Program and everybody is being more careful about drips and leaks.
Th obvious question is, If SAWS customers are pumping less water why are we in drought restrictions? The main cause is that we have not received any rain. May and June are usually the best rain months in South Texas. This year we had less rain than usual in May and almost no rain in June. No rain means that there is no recharge for the aquifer and it means that the agricultural irrigators must irrigate every week if they are going to harvest a crop. The peak irrigation time for corn is June. In June, agricultural irrigators pump more than twice as much water as we do in San Antonio. If there is no rain, this pumping can draw the aquifer level down as it did this year.
What are the prospects for the rest of the summer? The corn irrigation will be complete early in July. Cotton is irrigated into the summer and there are some peanut farmers that also irrigate late into the season, but the overall volume is greatly reduced. If we can continue to be reasonable about our lawn sprinkling in San Antonio and follow the requirements of the Stage 1 restrictions (one/week by last digit of address and no water waste), I think we can escape the more severe restrictions of Stage 2. The rivers and springs are flowing well, which indicates that the aquifer level will recover quickly with reduced pumping and rain.
For information on the drought restrictions go to the SAWS website at saws.org. The same site offers a number of conservation techniques and programming, including the Community Conservation Challenge that will provide cash awards to groups that can enlist their members to reduce water use over last year. The deadline to sign up is July 26.