U.S. Water News Online
DALLAS -- Drinking water is becoming an increasingly
precious commodity for many small cities and rural water systems as
the 1996 drought drags on across northern and western Texas.
Overworked pumps, falling water tables and water lines broken by
parched and shifting soil are forcing customers to cut back.
About 280 small towns and private water-supply companies statewide
have reported mandatory or voluntary water restrictions to the Texas
Natural Resource Conservation Commission -- a dramatic increase over
most years, according to commission spokesperson Linda Fernandez.
"There are real problems out there," she said. "Brownsville is
having water mains break because the soil is so dry. San Antonio is
experiencing quadruple the number of water main breaks they normally
John Boggess of the San Antonio Water System reports a record
number of main breaks -- 745 in July alone, compared to 400-500 in
the driest periods of normal years.
"We've already had 353 breaks for the first 15 days of August," he
said. This brings the total number of breaks this year to 2138
through August 15. In a normal year, the city averages around
Boggess said the city's 47 in-house maintenance crews are just
barely able to keep up with fixing the main breaks. The city has had
to hire six outside contract crews to fix the streets torn up after a
main repair. Necessary street repairs from August through September
will cost the city another half million dollars, "and that," he
added, "is a pretty hefty sum for an unbudgeted item."
Boggess explained that the city has an aggressive leak detection
program, but the crews are too busy attending to emergency calls (for
main breaks) to attend properly to routine system checks. San
Antonio's soils are notorious for shifting, he said, a factor
compounded by the current drought.
Still, he said, until this year, the city has managed to maintain
its unaccounted for water (water lost before it can pass through a
meter) at a level of 7 percent.
"With all the main breaks we've had, we're not going to make that this year," he said. "Unfortunately," he added, "with the drought we have now, we can least afford the loss."
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