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Aquifer district close to declaring first stage of drought

Friday, June 13, 2008 by Mark Richardson

Drought season is upon us, but if you think that this year’s drought will be same as others in past years, think again. Local agencies such as the Lower Colorado River Authority, the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District and the City of Austin have taken steps recently to increase water conservation and cut waste. Those new rules will affect most Central Texas water users.


At last night’s meeting, the Aquifer District board discussed calling an Alert Stage Drought as both of its indicators, the level in the Lovelady Well near Buda and spring flow at Barton Springs, were near the trigger levels and trending downward. The water level at the Lovelady Well is at 177.1 feet with the trigger level at 181 feet. And the flow at Barton Springs was measured at a 10-day average of 41 cubic feet per second with the trigger at 38 CFS.


In April 2007, the BSEACD adopted a new set of rules to set limits on the total amount of water that can be pumped during a drought. While the limits on Alert Stage (20 percent reduction in use) and Alarm Stage (30 percent) remain in place, if pumpage remains too high, the district can call an Extreme Response Period, or ERP.


Under an ERP, the board will cut all Class A conditional permits by 50 percent for 90 days; then to 75 percent for 90 days; then 100 percent until the drought abates.


At last night’s meeting, the BSEACD Board, unsure of some of the measurements at Barton Springs, said it would take another 10 days of readings and decide on the drought status at its next meeting on June 26.


 Meanwhile, this is the first summer for the City of Austin’s new Water Conservation program to be in effect. The program, approved in May 2007, includes rules requiring that all homes being sold be brought up to current plumbing code, including new ultra-low flow toilets; and sub-metering on all new multi-family housing. For lawn irrigation, homeowners will be allowed two watering days a week and no watering between 10am and 7pm. New homes must have at least 6 inches of soil depth to hold moisture.


Shortly before the new conservation measures went into effect in September 2007, the city formed a Water Conservation Committee that will continually review and make recommendations for changes and additional measures for conservation.


In addition, the LCRA recently formed a Water Conservation Task Force from a diverse group of stakeholders to guide LCRA’s long-term efforts for water conservation. Task force members represent water users in the lower Colorado River basin, including LCRA water customers, lakeside business interests, developers and builders, environmental interests, irrigation and landscape businesses, and regional water planners.

Over the next six months, task force members will develop a list of conservation measures to consider for implementation; developing screening criteria to prioritize measures for implementation; and reviewing draft recommendations for a state-required conservation plan.

One Central Texas City is not waiting for things to get worse. Officials in San Marcos announced Thursday that it will enter Stage 1 of its Drought Response Plan as the lack of rain and hot summer temperatures continue to drop Edwards Aquifer levels in the region.


Stage 1 limits outdoor watering with sprinklers to once a week on designated days, along with other water restrictions. The last time San Marcos had to enter mandatory water restrictions due to drought was in June 2006.

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