U.S. Water News Online
AUSTIN, Texas -- A stage 2 drought alert may be averted
in Austin and the surrounding region if residents start conserving water now, say
water officials here. A stage 1 drought alert is already in place for
the city of Austin, which relies on surface water from the Colorado River,
as well as nine surrounding municipalities, totaling about 35,000 people,
which rely on the Barton Springs section of the Edwards Aquifer.
At this stage, water companies are asking for a voluntary
in water use of at least 10 percent. A stage 2 drought alert would require
mandatory reductions of at least 20 percent, and a stage 3 alert would require
a 30 percent curtailment.
With only a half inch -- or less -- of rainfall since
Austin is very close to a drought situation, said city Water Conservation
Manager Tony Greg. Currently, Town Lake and Lake Austin, both fed by the Colorado
River, are not severely depleted, but officials are watching water levels
closely, Greg said.
Outdoor water use is the primary culprit when it comes to
waste, said Greg, and this problem is increasing as the area undergoes rapid
suburban development. The phenomenal rate of growth in Austin -- the city
gains 1000 new water customers every six months -- is adding to the concern
over current drought conditions. Water use here in the summer months can jump
up to 200 million gallons a day, from its normal level of about 110 million
gallons a day. That is uncomfortably close to the city's limit of 215 million
gallons a day, Greg said. A major irrigation drain could force Austin to
build a fourth water treatment plant prior to the planned construction date after
2010, officials said. According to Greg, conservation could well make
the difference in whether or not a new water plant for Austin is built
ahead of schedule.
Aquifer district water manager Bill Couch said water companies
are requiring commercial and industrial users to submit and implement a plan
to reduce water consumption systematically. So far, he says, private residences
are not required to do this, but water companies are stressing the need
for voluntary compliance on the part of everyone.
"We're promoting xeriscaping," Couch said.
He notedthat xeriscaping -- landscaping designed with
native plants that need minimal watering
-- rather than planting Kentucky bluegrass, which needs much more water
than a dry climate can sustain, has proven to be a significant factor in
the reduction of water use here. Even homeowners who do not xeriscape can water
lawns much less than they generally do now, said Couch. According to a recent
Austin water utility survey, most customers use 30 to 50 percent more
water than their lawns require, he said.
Couch noted that the Edwards Aquifer is fairly shallow -- only
400 feet at its deepest -- and the aquifers cycles of depletion and recharge
can be rapid, depending on water use and the amount of water re-entering
the system after a heavy storm. But extreme depletion of the aquifer is not
wise, he said, because low water levels have a detrimental effect on water quality.
"It is much better to have a long-term sustainable water
supply than to allow the system to go to extremes," said Couch. "In the last
eight years we've been in a stage 1 drought alert three times. We've only been in
a stage 2 alert one other time. We are now approaching stage 2, but with
these conservation measures, and a little rain this spring, we think
we'll be able to avert the stage 2 scenario."
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