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Aquifer district officials laud compliance with water use restrictions

Thursday, August 18, 2011 by Elizabeth Pagano

While it may be hard to find an upside to our recent weather, officials at the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District say they are pleasantly surprised to see how seriously people are taking this drought.


July was the first month that the district assessed drought management fees. Of the some 100 permittees that are the district’s heaviest water users, only five of them were using enough water to warrant fines.


Even better news, perhaps, is how the district is coping with the restrictions overall.


“We were 19 percent under the target,” John Dupnik, a compliance specialist with the district, told In Fact Daily.  “So, the aggregate target for total pumpage represents the 20 percent reduction, and all of our permittees, in total, were 19 percent below that.


“In fact, all of the permitees performed rather extraordinarily, I have to say. I myself was doubtful as to how this would end up looking, particularly with how aggressive this drought has been and how hot it has been,” said Dupnik.


Some of BSEACD’s largest users are public water systems. Kyle, Buda and Monarch “all substantially, impressively under-pumped,” said Dupnik, who explained that this was all the more significant because the systems are reliant on their customers to conserve water. He attributed the effectiveness of water conservation ad campaigns, news stories, and the environment itself.


“I think it’s just so obvious. It’s so hot and it’s so dry, you just have drive by Lake Travis and look at it to say, ‘OK, this is really happening,’ said Dupnik. “That’s the one benefit that comes out of these kinds of situations. It does really shine a light on the issues, water-resource management and the need for it, and the importance of trying to get through these lean times. Because it will rain again, I know it doesn’t feel like it, but it will rain. It’s just trying to slow things down until we can replenish some rains back into the area.”


The district is currently in Stage II: Alarm Drought. But General Manager Kirk Holland warned that probably won’t last for long. “It seems almost assured that we will be crossing to Stage III: Critical Drought sometime in early September,” said told directors and those gathered for last week’s meeting.


At that point, most allotments will drop to 30 percent of non-drought levels, and the district will cast a larger net in terms of enforcement.


The district has refined its drought management system in recent years, as the region has faced a series of recurrent extreme droughts, making it a smoother process for everyone involved.


Dupnik noted that permitees were in the habit of following restrictions, after droughts in 2006 and 2009. “It’s not like they have to go dust off their drought contingency plan that they’ve never seen. They’ve gotten real familiar with it,” said Dupnik.


The longer the drought persists, the finer the gradation of enforcement. Right now, they are concentrating solely on the largest users who are most egregiously over their allotments.


“If we’re in it for a long time, we start looking at everybody. We start having enforcement meetings, and actually issuing citations, and assessing penalties and the whole thing,” said Dupnik.

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