San Marcos residents could be watering their lawns less and less as this hot, dry summer continues. Photo by Andy Sevilla.
(Editor’s Note: The following is revised to correct the June 2 vote on the optional watering day. The vote was 5-2 in favor, with Councilmember John Thomaides also in opposition.)
By ANDY SEVILLA
Just less than two weeks ago, the San Marcos City Council considered granting additional watering options under Stage 1 drought restrictions. Three days later, the city declared Stage 2 draught.
Now, it appears Stage 3 drought is headed here quickly.
On June 19, the city called for Stage 2 drought, triggered by the Edwards Aquifer Authority (EAA) when the J-17 monitoring well in San Antonio falls below a ten-day average of 650 feet above mean sea level. The stage is also triggered when the flow at the San Marcos Springs slows to 80 cubic feet per second.
Stage 3 occurs when the San Antonio monitoring well falls to a ten-day average of 640 feet. Early Monday morning, the well fell to as low as 641.45 feet, with a ten-day average of 643.6 feet. That measure has fallen six feet in 11 days since a ten-day average of 649.6 triggered Stage 2.
The EAA has doesn’t have a San Marcos Springs trigger for Stage 3.
In Stage 3, EAA permittees are required to cut their water use by 35 percent, compared with 30 percent for Stage 2.
As that near future loomed, San Marcos councilmembers voted on June 2 to approve an additional optional weekend watering day for citizens who missed their one permitted day during the workweek. The first reading vote went 5-2, with only Gaylord Bose John Thomaides in opposition.
During the next two weeks, well levels and spring flows continued to drop. Citizens went public, urging councilmembers to stop the rule change. On June 16, the council agreed to table the second reading. No doubt, some knew the city would be in Stage 2 before the end of the week.
The rule change would have enabled residents to water on a weekend day specified by their addresses, if they were to miss their scheduled watering days during the week. Under Stage 1 and Stage 2 drought restrictions, residents are only allowed one watering day per week.
City staff recommended councilmembers approve an alternate watering day after resident complaints surfaced demanding the extra day, said Tom Taggart, the city’s director of public services.
Bose, who opposed the proposal from the beginning, asked Taggart for specific numbers of complaints when the matter came up for first reading on June 2, but Taggart was unable to provide concrete figures. Bose voiced dismay in changing the city’s rules “for very, very few people,” adding that he personally had not seen any evidence of such complaints.
“There needs to be more transparency on what is going on behind this ordinance,” Bose said minutes before the council unanimously decided to table. “There hasn’t been that much transparency on the number of people that have asked for this. It’s the tail wagging the dog, (and) not the dog calling the shots.”
During the citizen comment period, former Councilmember Betsy Robertson reminded councilmembers that they were elected to set priorities for the city.
“The river is very vulnerable right now,” Robertson said. “Now is not the time to add stress.”
Said San Marcos resident Kara Sweidel, “I think it’d be very irresponsible to allow another (watering day) option. It’s completely unenforceable. And grass is not as important as water. Water for our future, water for our children, for our grandchildren.”
Taggart said residents would only consider watering on their alternate days if they were “out of town” on their scheduled days during the week.
“When you observe someone watering, you know when they’re not supposed to,” Taggart said in response to hypothetical scenarios of residents taking advantage of an extra day.
City Attorney Michael Cosentino said neighbors who witness an infraction can provide the municipal court with a sworn affidavit. Then, “a criminal investigation and possible prosecution begins.”
However, said Taggart, “The ordinance doesn’t require we penalize on the first offense We will educate.”
Taggart further noted that about “three dozen” complaints have been investigated during water restrictive years, and “one or two in the past nine years.”
The council ultimately decided to think about Mayor Susan Narvaiz’ suggestion that the city offer watering variances, rather than add optional watering days. Narvaiz made the suggestion at the June 2 meeting.
Narvaiz said a variance process would protect the restrictions set forth, but would allow residents to appeal by providing circumstances as to why an extra watering day would be needed for them specifically.
“Give the department a variance process,” Narvaiz said as the council chambers filled with clapping from those in attendance on June 16.
“I was paying attention when you said that last time,” Thomaides said. “I definitely would support that.”Email | Print