Amid a historically hot summer and extreme drought conditions in Central Texas, the San Antonio Water System is issuing citations to residents not abiding by its Stage 2 water restrictions — almost 2,200 this year.
At the same time, San Antonio’s biggest commercial and industrial water users are using millions of gallons of water each month.
In an effort to better understand citywide water use, the San Antonio Report asked SAWS for the top-10 industrial or commercial users of potable, nonrecycled water over the summer, then reached out to each one about how it uses that water. State law prohibits the utility from making its top residential water users public.
Most of the SAWS customers on the list are massive organizations that serve their own customers, in a variety of ways. The list includes two major health care systems and two popular local theme parks. Three are local manufacturers. Two are household names that use water to sell San Antonians two basic needs: power and food.
Of those who responded to questions about their water use, most emphasized that conservation efforts are a major part of their water use policies. Several pointed out that they have reduced water use over the last several years while acknowledging that this summer’s extreme heat has pushed use higher.
SAWS confirmed these efforts. The utility actively works with most of the companies listed below to help them conserve water, said Anne Hayden, communications manager of SAWS.
“Almost all of them voluntarily want to jump into conservation programs since it benefits their profit,” Hayden said. “A lot of these organizations want their facilities to conserve because it reflects on these companies when their facilities do well, so they’re usually really incentivized to participate in conservation.”
The list below shows the number of gallons each entity used between May and July in potable, nonrecycled water:
- Six Flags Fiesta Texas — 67.19 million gallons
- H-E-B — 66.18 million gallons
- SeaWorld San Antonio — 56.74 million gallons
- Methodist Healthcare — 54.85 million gallons
- TowerJazz Texas — 54.09 million gallons
- Bexar County — 37.79 million gallons
- CarbonFree — 37.04 million gallons
- University Health —34.87 million gallons
- CPS Energy — 31.7 million gallons
- Refresco — 26.2 million gallons
The welfare of patients and inmates
For University Health, record-breaking triple-digit heat this summer has meant “a lot more water [use] than normal,” said Andrea Wazir, a University Health senior public relations specialist.
Wazir said University Health uses almost 20,000 gallons of water per day just to meet the needs of its dialysis patients at facilities around the city. Water also is used in several of its facilities’ large cooling systems, Wazir said, but these systems “tend to be more energy efficient overall and accommodate the specific cooling needs of our medical facilities.”
Methodist Healthcare has seen a similar trend due to the heat, said Palmira Arellano, vice president of communication and community affairs of Methodist Healthcare.
“Our eight hospitals also use water for some of the same reasons you would use it in your own home — to cook, launder, shower and flush the toilet,” Arellano said. “That requires a significant amount of water considering Methodist Healthcare is the largest health care system in South Texas.”
For Bexar County, in addition to the extreme heat, an increase in COVID-19 sanitization and a significant increase in public use of county facilities have meant water use is at an all-time high for public safety and compliance at the county, said Monica Trevino-Ortega, Bexar County assistant public information officer.
The county is responsible for the lives and welfare of thousands of employees, she added, plus inmates at the Bexar County Adult Detention Center.
The county is “careful to comply with water restrictions,” she said, while “staff makes conscious efforts to conserve water and energy.”
Food and energy
H-E-B and CPS Energy say their water use is required to provide San Antonio residents with two life essentials: food and energy.
H-E-B is one of the largest food manufacturers in the region, said Julie Bedingfield, H-E-B’s public affairs manager, with many products “proudly made here in San Antonio.”
“H-E-B operates eight manufacturing facilities at our Rittiman Road campus, including one of the largest dairy and meat plants in the southern U.S.,” she said. “Food manufacturing can use large amounts of water both as an ingredient and to help maintain food safety, sanitization and safe operations.”
H-E-B has worked to be more innovative in an effort to reduce its water use, Bedingfield said, in part to lower costs for its businesses and customers, she added.
CPS Energy is always working to manage its “energy-water nexus,” spokeswoman Christine Patmon said. CPS Energy is usually SAWS’ biggest user, and vice versa, she said.
“It takes a lot of energy to produce and move water, and it takes water to make energy,” Patmon said. CPS Energy’s power plants consume the majority of its water since fresh water is needed to make steam to generate power.
“As temperatures increase in the summer and more electricity is needed, our water use increases because more plants are running,” Patmon added. “We keep irrigation to a minimum around buildings and our new buildings are constructed with water savings and energy efficiency in mind.”
The utility has decreased the amount of fresh water it uses and has introduced innovative ways to use recycled water where it can, a recent CPS Energy environmental report notes.
The three manufacturing companies that made the top 10 list use water in unique ways.
CarbonFree, which captures industrial carbon dioxide, one of the greenhouse gases responsible for a warming planet, uses water in its capturing process and as an ingredient in the creation of some of its chemicals, said the company’s general counsel, J. Brent Hagy.
CarbonFree also uses fresh water in its cooling processes but is working to use more recycled water, Hagy said.
“Our water usage tends to increase somewhat in the summer due to evaporation loss from our cooling tower as well as increased demand for [bleach] for municipal water treatment and swimming pool water treatment,” he said.
Neither TowerJazz Texas nor beverage bottler Refresco replied to multiple requests for comment on their water use.
A recent sustainability report by Tower Semiconductor, TowerJazz Texas’ parent company, states that “the semiconductor production process … requires a significant quantity of ‘ultra-pure’ water when cleaning hardware of chemicals used in the production processes.”
But Tower is “continuously striving to improve its water treatment and management in order to conserve as much water as possible in the manufacturing process,” the report states.
Refresco, which calls itself “the world’s largest independent bottler for retailers and A-brands in Europe and North America,” appears to be based in Rotterdam, with 60 manufacturing facilities around the globe.
The company’s website does not go into details on the company’s water use; its sustainability page states Refresco wants “to grow while ensuring the future of generations to come.”
Anyone who’s grown up in San Antonio is familiar with its many amusement and water parks. Whether it’s staying cool by taking a ride on Fiesta Texas’ Gully Washer or playing around on one of the splash pads at SeaWorld’s Aquatica, thousands beat the city’s heat each summer with a day at one of the local amusement parks.
That relief comes with a cost, however. Both parks are especially heavy fresh water users in the summer. Ranking as the summer’s top water user, Fiesta Texas used just over 67 million gallons between May and July this summer.
The amount of potable water the park uses includes water for fountain beverages, as well as water bottle refill fountains for its employees and guests, said Jeff Filicko, Fiesta Texas’ marketing manager.
“Additionally, all refreshment stands serve cups of complimentary drinking water to any guest on request,” Filicko said in an emailed statement. “This amenity is even more important during these times of extreme heat when proper hydration is so important as we experience a record-setting number of 100-degree days.”
Fiesta Texas has worked to conserve water by adding native plants to its landscaping, recycling park runoff water into an irrigation lake for its water landscape beds, installing water-saving plumbing fixtures and using closed-loop waterfalls and fountains, Filicko said, adding that the water used in Fiesta Texas’ water park is filtered, treated and re-circulated.
“We are aware of the importance of water conservation, and with the limited resources of our aquifer, we have always been and will continue to be pro-active in exploring additional ways to reduce usage,” he said.
Potable water is similarly used at SeaWorld in the park’s kitchens and dining areas, bathrooms, children’s play areas and water rides, said Chuck Cureau, director of public relations at SeaWorld San Antonio.
“Triple-digit temperatures play a factor in water consumption, as well, as guests and employees may use more water for personal needs and there is increased evaporation,” Cureau said.
SeaWorld conserves by collecting and recycling condensate water, turning off its fountains and using low-flow water fixtures in the park’s bathrooms, Cureau said.
H-E-B, Methodist Healthcare Ministries and CPS Energy are financial supporters of the San Antonio Report. For a full list of business and nonprofit members, click here.