Caution continues under Stage 2 drought


News Reporter

As of Feb. 1, San Marcos has lowered the drought restrictions due to an increase in rainfall, according to the Edwards Aquifer Authority (EAA).

Stage 2 water limitations allow lawns to be watered on a weekly basis compared to bi-weekly restrictions under Stage 3. Jan Klein, conservation coordinator for the city, said the restrictions were reduced following the EAA move to Stage 2 last week. 

Dianne Wassenich, program coordinator for the San Marcos River Foundation (SMRF), said the recent rains and reduced water usage will only temporarily increase the flow of the aquifer.

“Still be cautious,” Klein said. “We’re in a long-term drought, and we don’t know how long it’s going to last.”

The J-17 Index Well, which is used to measure the aquifer in San Antonio, read a flow rate of 645.1 cubic feet per second (CFS) on Feb. 2. The reading was an increase from 644.2 CFS on the 10-day average.

Wassenich said recent rains helped increase the flow of the aquifer. Residents typically do not water lawns frequently in the winter, which lessens stress on the aquifer and increases flow.

Meredith Miller, senior program specialist at the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment, said recent rains have not significantly increased the flow of San Marcos Springs. Rainwater flows out of the area before it can be collected into the aquifer.

Klein said the aquifer ordinarily drops in the summer months when rainfall is lower and farmers take in water for irrigation. City officials instituted Stage 3 water restrictions for the majority of 2014. Officials enacted Stage 4 status between July and November.

The aquifer has been dropping consistently over the past two years, Wassenich said. Rain continues to miss the recharge zone, and the increasing area population forces more water to be removed, stressing the aquifer more than usual.

“We’ll be back in Stage 3 very soon,” Wassenich said.

Klein said the historical average flow for the aquifer in the month of February at the J-17 well is 669.3 CFS, 24 CFS above the present flow.

“It doesn’t seem logical or sensible to reduce the restrictions in a multi-year drought,” Wassenich said.

The aquifer will drop low enough to implement Stages 3, 4 and possibly 5 restrictions during the summer unless “something significant” changes in the weather under the current projections from the EAA, Wassenich said. 

Miller said several years of consistent rain may be necessary to bring the aquifer back to normal levels considering the current depletion.

The city briefly instituted Stage 4 restrictions last summer but went back to Stage 3 after rains, Klein said. San Marcos has never instituted Stage 5 restrictions and has no specific guidelines for that condition except to do “everything necessary” to protect the aquifer and San Marcos springs.

“We don’t know how low the aquifer has to get before the springs stop flowing, and we really don’t want to find out that number,” Miller said.

Wassenich said students and residents should watch for water leaks and report violations of the restrictions, especially the overuse of lawn sprinklers.

“Basically you should still use less water,” Wassenich said.

Students should encourage apartment complexes to install water-saving appliances and make an effort to reduce personal usage despite the relaxed restrictions, Klein said. Citizens can receive free water audits. City inspectors examine where water is wasted and find ways to conserve in the audits.

“General awareness is what people need,” Klein said. “If we all paid attention to leaks and water usage, it would be a big step.”