San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

June 25th, 2008
BS/EACD declares alarm stage drought

STAFF REPORT

AUSTIN – The Board of Directors of the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District (BS/EACD) declared an alarm stage drought for the Barton Springs segment of the Edwards Aquifer.

The declaration is effective immediately, meaning BS/EACD permittees are required to reduce water use 20 percent. Among the permittees are the Cities of Buda and Kyle, along with several private water suppliers outside incorporated areas in southern Travis and northern Hays Counties.

Kyle, a BS/EACD permittee, already has called for Stage II water restrictions, with includes a mandatory schedule limiting lawn watering to twice per week. San Marcos, which is permitted by the Edwards Aquifer Authority (EAA), has implemented Stage I restrictions with a once-per-week watering schedule. Buda, which is a BS/EACD permittee, is certain to implement restrictions.

Though the wettest months for Central Texas historically are May and September, the BS/EACD said dry conditions have persisted since September 2007, with most months’ receiving well below average rainfall totals.

The Manchaca Weather Station, maintained by the BS/EACD, reports a deficit of nearly nine inches of rain so far for 2008. Onion Creek and the other area creeks providing a majority of recharge to the aquifer stopped flowing in September 2007.

The BS/EACD makes drought declarations on the basis of water levels in the Lovelady Indicator Well in South Austin and spring discharge at Barton Springs. Either Barton Springs or the Lovelady Well can trigger a drought declaration.

Barton Springs currently has a 10-day average discharge of 29 cubic feet per second (cfs), below its Alarm Stage Drought threshold of 38 cfs. The Lovelady well has a depth to water of 178.8 ft, very close its trigger level of 181.0 feet.

Declaration of an alarm stage drought requires permittees to implement steps in their User Drought Contingency Plans to achieve a mandatory 20 percent reduction in usage. While many of the smaller, individual wells are exempt from BS/EACD permitting, they are equally as vulnerable to falling water levels, according to the BS/EACD, which encourages such users to reduce their use by 20 percent to conserve the resource.

Without concerted attempts to achieve these reductions and without significant rains, water levels will drop further and will lead sooner to more restrictive declarations, the BS/EACD said.

The BS/EACD said its board will continue to monitor groundwater use and aquifer conditions as indicated by its drought triggers and other indicators throughout the drought.

The previous alarm stage drought was declared in January 2006, and it was followed by a critical stage drought declaration in October 2006, which lasted for more than four months.

A list of actions to save water in and around the home or office and the hydrographs for various monitor wells are available on the District’s website at www.bseacd.org.

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5 thoughts on “BS/EACD declares alarm stage drought

  1. I’ve often wondered if it wouldn’t be a good idea to *always* be in stage 1 (unless a higher level is required).

  2. Ted,

    As Hays County continues to grow at such a rapid rate, what you’re suggesting could really happen. At some point, it may become necessary to amend the stages so that the the “non-drought” stage is more aggressive with respect to conservation measures.

    Kyle has really done a good job on both the conservation and supply sides of the water issue. Diversifying the city’s water supply to lessen its reliance on ground water combined with thoughtful conservation requirements that gradually increase as conditions grow more severe seems to have worked well.

    Addressing longterm water management in this area is only going to grow in importance.

  3. It would be helpful if this and other websites, along with the paper would create a direct link to the rules of Stage 1 drought restrictions. Better yet would be a market approach that raises the price of “excessive” water use during times of drought. Currently San Marcos bills a flat rate of $18.98 for the first 8,000 gallons. The price goes up to $4.45 per thousand gallons up to 10,000 gallons, $5.57/1,000 gallons up to 25,000 gallons and $6.18/1,000 after that. I suggest those teirs need some adjustment and the top users be charged more during drought events. The current system punishes all users, even those using the least amount of water, by dictating when and how they can water.

  4. Generally, if not always, we simply report the water use restrictions directly, as you’ll see from looking at the “related articles” listed on the right. Kyle and San Marcos, for example, impose specific water use restrictions on their customers, as the stories detail. However, it’s a little different with the BS/EACD because the residential or commercial user is not a direct BS/EACD customer. The BS/EACD customers are municipalities and private water companies, which the BS/EACD calls “permittees.” In this alarm stage case, the BS/EACD imposes mandatory 20 percent reductions on its permittees. The permittees, in turn, impose restrictions on their customers, as the local municipalities have done.

    Tiered pricing for water use is common for municipalities. It’s also common for municipalities in Texas to over-charge for water so they can keep taxes down. If municipalities increase water rates for drought events, then we’ve got a circumstance in which the municipality “profits” from a water shortage. The extra money for the municipality would either reduce the property tax rate, or it would go towards paying the aquifer district fines for over-pumping.

    I’m not sure an outfit like the BS/EACD would necessarily approve of a water price increase for drought times. The main concern for the BS/EACD is to conserve the resource. If a municipality raised rates during drought, it could be that customers would use water like always, paying the little extra to provide the city with the money to pay its fine for missing the reduction target. In that case, the city has little motive, besides a sense of responsibility, for enforcing use restrictions. I’m not suggesting that city governments are so craven. I’m only wondering if increased rates during drought would achieve water conservation any better than mandatory restrictions for which violations can be eye-balled.

  5. There is no way to reduce or control water usage if growth is not restricted. Just will not happen. We do not need growth – in the end you have a mess. If you want what growth provides, move to Austin or any other large city that sang the growth tune until it choked..

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