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

After hearing the results of a city-wide survey in which most respondents favored tightening year-round water conservation rules, the San Marcos City Council opted last week to postpone action on amending the city’s drought ordinance.

During the Jan. 3 city council meeting, city staff recommended loosening many of the city’s current drought rules, which were largely intended to preserve the aquifer that feeds the San Marcos River. Staff said the city has greatly reduced its groundwater use over the years, such that 80 percent of its water now comes from Canyon Lake rather than the Edwards Aquifer.

Staff also recommended 11 new year-round water conservation rules and an increase in enforcement of daytime watering restrictions. The increased enforcement would be implemented via the AMI MeterSense system and part-time and/or after-hours patrols during drought stages. All of staff’s recommendations are here.

The city council plans hold a public workshop on the matter in January or February, after which it may act to amend the city’s drought ordinance. Jim Nuse, city manager, told council members there is no reason to rush into voting on the proposed amendments, though he said the city should address the issue by the spring or summer.

City staff conducted a survey of water utility customers to gauge support of the proposed drought ordinance amendments. Of the approximately 9,000 households invited to take the survey, 756 participated.

Most survey respondents favored more enforcement of drought rules, the adoption of year-round water conservation rules, stricter restrictions on hand watering, the allowance of extra watering times for vegetable gardens, and less-stringent restrictions on the use of sprinklers, soaker hoses, and drip irrigation systems. Most respondents opposed stricter non-commercial vehicle washing restrictions and the issuance of city permits to wash impervious surfaces during drought, though they opposed loosening restrictions on commercial vehicle washing.

San Marcos residents returned to Stage 1 drought restrictions late last month following a declaration by the Edwards Aquifer Authority on Dec. 23 lifting Stage 2 measures as the San Antonio pool of the Edwards Aquifer region reached higher aquifer levels. San Marcos had been under Stage 2 restrictions for seven months due to the worst drought conditions in decades that significantly reduced aquifer levels and springflow from the aquifer-fed San Marcos and Comal Springs. The city entered Stage 1 on April 19, 2011 and Stage 2 on June 3, 2011.

The San Marcos ordinance has four critical stages based on the severity of drought conditions. Aquifer users in the San Antonio pool are required by the Edwards Aquifer Authority to reduce pumping by 20 percent in Stage 1. Stage restrictions may also be triggered by low springflows at Comal or San Marcos Springs. On Jan. 9, the San Marcos springs were flowing at 101 cubic feet per second (cfs) compared to 159 cfs a year ago. The historical average springflow for January is 174 cfs. The San Marcos springs create the headwaters of the San Marcos River.

In order to encourage participation in the survey, those who submitted a survey were entered into a drawing for either a $250 Gardenville gift certificate or a $250 utility bill credit. In addition to the survey, city staff met with builders, developers, landscapers and irrigators to gather input on proposed amendments.

“We think we have a fairly accurate gauge of how the citizens feel feel about the drought restriction ordinance and the proposed changes,” city Public Services Director Tom Taggart told city council members during a meeting last week.

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