SAWS says new heavy use surcharge could help fend off reduced watering

SAN ANTONIO – San Antonio Water System officials are hoping the city council approves new drought rules, which the city-owned utility says could help stave off harsher conservation measures.

The utility’s board of trustees unanimously approved changes to its rules last month for how customers can water their lawns and how they’re punished for heavy water use during drought periods. The city council still needs to approve the changes at a Jun. 20 meeting before they can take effect.

One of the biggest proposed changes would be a new surcharge for the heaviest water users. SAWS Vice-President of Conservation Karen Guz said it could help the utility conserve water without resorting to restrictions that affect everyone.

As the level of the Edwards Aquifer drops, the Edwards Aquifer Authority (EAA) allows permit holders like SAWS to pump less and less water. SAWS has its own drought restrictions for customers that partially overlap with the EAA’s, based on the aquifer level

However, while the EAA is currently under Stage 4 pumping restrictions, SAWS is only under Stage 2 drought restrictions, which means customers can only water their landscaping once a week.

The utility has never gone to Stage 3 or 4 restrictions. As currently written, Stage 3 restrictions would reduce permitted landscape watering to once every other week.

“That twice-a-month watering is pretty severe. It’s pretty onerous thing to have to do,” Guz said. “The plants can survive it, but it’s just difficult for people. So we’ve been reluctant to go there unless it’s an emergency. So we want something we do before that.”

Instead of a restriction for everyone, the utility’s new Stage 3 restrictions would impose a new surcharge on the heaviest water users: $10.37 for every 1,000 gallons they use above a certain threshold.

The threshold for residential customers would be 20,000 gallons. Last summer, the average single-family home used fewer than 8,000 gallons a month, Guz said.

“The best opportunity to save water is in the hottest months of the summer with these rules. So that’s July, August, September. So if this passes soon, then in July, we would be able to use the new Stage 3, and hopefully, that works. We save enough water. We get through the rest of the year staying in once-a-week rules,” Guz said.

Currently, SAWS expects the aquifer level to drop below 625 feet for part of the summer, triggering the EAA’s Stage 5 pumping restrictions and severely limiting how much water SAWS can pump.

The aquifer has only hit Stage 5 four times before, Guz said. The last time was in 1990.

The utility has tried to diversify its water sources, including the Vista Ridge pipeline and a desalination project. Still, it hopes to reduce water use by 10%.

The other proposed changes include adjusted watering hours, new restrictions on drip irrigation, and a new way to fine drought rule violators, whether they live in or outside the San Antonio city limits.

You can read more in-depth explanations of the proposals HERE.

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