The City of San Antonio and the San Antonio Water System reinstated Stage One watering restrictions that took effect on Friday. Stage One restrictions allow for once-a-week landscape watering only before 11 a.m. and after 7 p.m. on certain days according to customer addresses.

“While the rain we received earlier this year provided great recharge to the aquifer, it wasn’t enough to completely avoid drought restrictions,” SAWS President and CEO Robert Puente stated in a news release Thursday. “We have an ample supply of water from the Edwards Aquifer as well as seven other sources, but state law requires us to cut back on pumping when the Edwards Aquifer drops to this level.”

San Antonio regulators have considered implementing Stage One watering restrictions year round, but the proposal received little support from SAWS executives, an independent study of the impact of the policy, and some Council members earlier this year. Year Round rules currently allow for, among other things, landscape watering any day of the week for all customers before 11 a.m. or after 7 p.m.

SAWS hired an independent consulting firm, Freese and Nichols, to study the possible impacts of once-a-week watering regulations. The findings, presented in April, showed that restrictions would not significantly impact water savings and would eventually lead to higher rate increases for SAWS customers. Those results re-affirmed conclusions reached by the SAWS organization when they created their own analysis of the restriction’s possible implications.

It is possible, however, that the debate on the regulation will be brought back before City Council under the leadership of Mayor Ron Nirenberg. Then-Councilman Nirenberg first proposed the idea in 2015 to foster a more widespread culture of conservation.

“The [initial] conversation was contained entirely within committee and never reached the previous full Council, let alone this one,” Nirenberg told the Rivard Report Friday. “My feelings on the need for this have not changed, and I have had a few discussions with Council members about reengaging the issue. This is a city policy issue and that’s where the decision will fall. [There are] many considerations beyond just the short term impact to SAWS revenue model.”

Local environmentalist groups have signaled support more strict, year-round watering rules.

Nirenberg will continue to speak with his colleagues on the matter, he said. “I don’t consider it a dead discussion by any means.”

Breakdown of Stage One Watering Rules:

Under stage one restrictions, outdoor watering with a sprinkler or other irrigation system is permitted once a week before 11 a.m. and after 7 p.m. Watering days are determined by the last number of a property’s street address.

0 or 1 – Monday
2 or 3 – Tuesday
4 or 5 – Wednesday
6 or 7 – Thursday
8 or 9 – Friday

A watering day begins and ends at midnight, and no overnight watering is allowed. Watering with a handheld hose is still permitted any day and at any time. Creating water waste, such as having water run down a street, is prohibited year-round.

Restriction decisions are based on a 10-day average reading of water levels taken at the city’s J17 monitoring well in the Edwards Aquifer. If the average water level dips below 660 feet, then stage one restrictions are activated. The 10 day average as of Friday was 659.4 feet.

The temporary water restrictions currently in place can be reconsidered, and potentially lifted, after at least 15 days following a return to 10-day average water level readings of 660 feet or more. This interim period prevents rapidly switching restrictions from day to day.

Sporadic rains, however, can produce a kind of “yo-yo effect.” When a tougher rules are imposed, water use goes down and the aquifer recharges – lifting the restriction. Then people start using more water – triggering another restriction, and so on.

For decades, the city’s water level averages have been gaged at the J17 index well because its unique location makes it particularly sensitive to pumping and recharge rates. It’s situated above a prominent downward Edwards Aquifer flowpath near the national cemetery at Fort Sam Houston.

Water level readings, and what the figures actually represent, are frequently misunderstood. An average water level reading of 660 feet does not actually signify 660 feet of standing water, but rather represents an amount of pressure exerted on water collected inside of the Edwards Aquifer by recharging water flowing in and pushing water upwards towards a well or pump.

To view up to date Edwards Aquifer conditions, including the 10-day-average water level reading, click here.

Jeffrey Sullivan

Jeffrey Sullivan is a Rivard Report reporter. He graduated from Trinity University with a degree in Political Science.