San Antonio’s longest streak without sprinkler restrictions since the close of the 2010-2015 drought is ending as dry conditions intensify throughout Texas.

Since September 2018, regular rainfall has buoyed levels of the Edwards Aquifer enough to avoid restrictions on outdoor irrigation systems, sprinklers, and soaker hoses. The period without cutbacks is the longest such period the city has experienced since 2009 and longest ever under the City’s current drought rules.

But starting Friday, residents may only use sprinkler systems once per week before 11 a.m. and after 7 p.m. under the City’s Stage 1 drought management restrictions. City Manager Erik Walsh, in consultation with San Antonio Water System President and CEO Robert Puente, declared Stage 1 restrictions Thursday.

City ordinances require officials to implement once-a-week watering restrictions when levels of the J-17 well that measures the Edwards Aquifer below San Antonio drop to an average of 660 feet above sea level or lower over 10 days. As of Thursday afternoon, the 10-day average level stood at 659.8 feet.

The declaration comes as prolonged dry weather creeps across Texas, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Its latest update released Thursday finds Bexar County conditions as “abnormally dry.” Large swaths of West Texas and the Panhandle are experiencing more severe drought at levels expected to affect crops and livestock.

Drought conditions across Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Tennessee for July 7, 2020.
Drought conditions across Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Tennessee for July 7, 2020. Credit: Courtesy / U.S. Drought Monitor

San Antonio’s municipal drought restrictions are tied to the Edwards Aquifer, the underground limestone rock layer that holds the region’s main water supply. The Edwards’ water level has not dipped this low since summer 2018, when it reached 640 feet in September.

Heavy rains that month replenished the groundwater source, and relatively frequent precipitation kept the aquifer high enough over the subsequent year and 10 months to avoid drought restrictions.

Also tied to the aquifer’s level are pumping restrictions by the Edwards Aquifer Authority, the government entity that manages use of the aquifer. On Thursday, the authority mandated pumping cutbacks of 20 percent. SAWS is the single largest pumper of the aquifer, with access to about half of its water rights.

New Braunfels Utilities officials also declared Thursday that the utility would mandate its own Stage 1 once-a-week sprinkler restrictions starting Monday.

SAWS and New Braunfels Utilities allow watering with a hand-held hose, drip irrigation system, or bucket at any time of day.

This article has been updated to correct the times during which use of sprinkler systems is allowed.

Brendan Gibbons is a former senior reporter at the San Antonio Report. He is an environmental journalist for Oil & Gas Watch.