Car wash owner: Austin water restrictions could ‘kill businesses in town’


UPDATED 11:17 a.m. Oct. 24

A day after the city of Austin announced a citywide water boil advisory and implemented water restrictions area car wash operators are concerned about the impact those restrictions will have on businesses and employees.

Dave Swenson operates four Arbor Car Wash locations in the Austin area, and only one is open in the city of Pflugerville, which does not have a boil water notice or restrictions. Although he said his company will survive because it has been open for over 20 years he worries about other car wash operators and his employees.

“But the newer shops, the smaller mom-and-pops, they’re going to go out of business,” he said. “We’re paying wages, but [our employees are]missing out on their tips and bonuses because we can’t operate.”

Early Monday morning, the city of Austin enacted a citywide water boil advisory for cooking and drinking water, and the advisory is affecting local restaurants.

A few hours later the city issued water restrictions that include prohibitions on car washing, both personal and commercial; irrigation; washing pavement and other surfaces; adding water to pools or spas; and the operation of ornamental fountains and ponds.

In his 21 years in the business, Swenson said September was Arbor’s worst month ever, and the heavy rains so far in October have also been bad for business. He said he hopes car wash companies can reopen by the time sunnier weather hits this weekend because Arbor could make up the lost business with five to seven sunny days.

Swenson says he’s losing $14,000 per day in sales, and that’s just for one location. If the city forces car washes to stay closed for longer, it will hurt his employees, he said.

“There’s no way we could afford to keep the people,” Swenson said. “We pay pretty well, and we’re trying to keep them on and keep cleaning and going.”

Not all car wash companies, however, were forced to close because of the water restrictions. NuWash, a local on-demand mobile car wash company does not use any city of Austin water, said Jake Lane, director of growth for the company.

“We’re getting our water from a source outside of the affected area,” he said in an email. “Since we use under half a gallon of water per wash (commercial car washes use around 40 gallons per wash), we don’t need to bring in a lot of water to keep our business running.”

Lane said he is not sure how other mobile car wash companies may be operating, but for NuWash, it is taking advantage of the situation to add new customers.

“We’ve been receiving more calls than usual due to the other places being closed down for so long, so the downtime hasn’t been horrible for our business,” he said. “The rain is the only thing impacting us.”

For other companies with physical locations they remain closed. Philip Rickman, manager for the South Lamar Boulevard location of Genie Car Wash, said all three of the company’s locations are closed until further notice. In his 24 years of working for the company he said he has never seen the water situation this bad that would require the company to close.

He said he was the only one working today to be able to answer the phone and worries about his coworkers who are not working.

“We’re not making any money,” Rickman said.

Swenson said he is not sure why car wash companies are being targeted, especially because many recycle their water and can use nonpotable water that is not suitable for drinking.

“If it’s a water usage issue, then it ought to come down to the big users,” he said.

Swenson said Arbor Car Wash used 331,000 gallons of water in August.

Nelson Andrade, a public information officer with the city of Austin, said he would look into whether the city’s large water users are being affected by the restrictions.

Andrade said he was not sure when the water restrictions would be lifted for car wash operators but that the city looks at it on a daily basis and could have more information later.

Editor’s note: This post was updated to include comments from NuWash.

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Amy Denney
Amy has been reporting in community journalism since 2007. She worked in the Chicago suburbs for three years before migrating south and joined Community Impact Newspaper in September 2010. Amy has been editor of the Northwest Austin publication since August 2012 and she is also the transportation beat reporter for the Austin area.
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