Edwards Aquifer could hit new low by summer
By Colin McDonald, Staff writer MySA.com
The Edwards Aquifer now is low enough — and dropping fast enough — to surpass the 1956 record low by this summer, projections from the San Antonio Water System show.
It’s a worst-case scenario. But it’s worse than anything experienced since people began keeping track.
And even the less severe predictions put San Antonio under Stage 4 water-use restrictions for more than half the year.
The utility expects San Antonio to be in Stage 3, which restricts watering to once every two weeks, by the end of April. It expects Stage 4 and surcharges on heavier water-users to be in place by the end of May.
“We need to start now,” said Karen Guz, director of conservation at SAWS. “This is not the summer for lush plants or green grass.”
The utility has never had to enforce either restriction. But it is under a restriction itself. If SAWS isn’t able to convince customers to reduce outdoor irrigation, it could overpump its permit from the Edwards Aquifer Authority and be fined, Guz said.
Those fines, which are set at three to four times the market rate for water sales, could amount to several million dollars because of the volume of water SAWS pumps. And those costs would then be passed on to customers in 2014, SAWS spokeswoman Anne Hayden said.
Customers don’t seem to grasp the severity of the drought, SAWS officials said.
“From our pumping, we can tell people are not taking it as seriously as we would like them to,” Guz said.
She pointed out SAWS has hired police officers to issue tickets. They won’t be giving as much leniency to homeowners who let water run down the street or sprinkle their lawns at the wrong time.
The one thing that would erase these worries and lift the aquifer level would be several days of heavy, above-average rainfall between now and the end of June, when the heaviest pumping from the aquifer occurs, SAWS staffers said.
Average rainfall won’t be enough.
The forecast from the Maryland-based Climate Prediction Center gives the San Antonio region a 76.7 percent chance of having average or below-average rainfall between now and June.
“We have these deficits in the soil,” meteorologist Ed O’Lenic said of the drought. “The question is, are they going to get made up? And the answer is no.”
Because the heaviest pumping from the aquifer occurs in the spring and early summer, water use during the next three months is crucial, said Jim Winterle of the Edwards Aquifer Authority.
“The peak is always in June or July,” which means water use now will have impacts through the rest of the year, he said.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated SAWS’ current drought restriction status. SAWS projects the need to implement Stage 3 restrictions in late April that would reduce outdoor water use by half.