Georgetown residents, businesses and developers have new schedules to adhere to when watering their lawns in addition to new rules to follow when installing or maintaining irrigation systems.

Both residents and businesses may only water during evening and morning hours regardless of drought conditions. During nondrought conditions, Georgetown residents may water two days a week. As of May 10, the city was in Phase 2 of its drought contingency plan, which limits water to one day a week.

The fees for watering outside of the scheduled times also changed with the city separating residential penalties from fines imposed on developers, builders and homeowners associations. Meanwhile, irrigation installers and HOAs will be required to have inspections done on their systems.

These new measures are part of the city’s larger efforts to proactively address water capacity concerns and refresh its conservation ordinances, which Director of Water Utilities Chelsea Solomon said hadn’t been done in years.

“Our standard is two days a week, but we allowed watering anytime a day,” she said. “So that’s not really being very responsible.”

Education before enforcement

The city has a few ways to enforce its watering rules, including an online form for the public to report a violation. City staff may witness a violation; however, the utilities department also has an automatic metering infrastructure system it can use to see when people are watering outside of their allotted hours.

When a violation occurs, the city will provide property owners with a courtesy notice on the first occurrence. Subsequent violations can result in fines for residents ranging from $50-$650, depending on the number of infractions within a 12-month period and what phase of the drought contingency plan is in effect. Similarly, businesses may receive a fine ranging from $250-$800.

However, fines are not the goal of these measures, Solomon said.

“We just want people to be responsible and [water] on the right day,” she said.

The department recently conducted a study looking at 25,000 Georgetown water customers over a three-month period. It found nearly 600 Olympic-sized pools of water were being used for irrigation on the wrong day.

New rules are also in place to educate those with drip irrigation and sprinkler systems. Developers and installers are now required to provide property owners with instruction on how to use irrigation systems and maintain turf along with the city’s water schedule and a copy of the design plan. HOAs and commercial properties must also have systems inspected every two years.

Conservation through regulation

Georgetown City Council approved the ordinance changes at its April 11 meeting following several discussions. Throughout the process, council members discussed whether the city should motivate public conservation efforts through increasing rates or regulations.

District 7 Council Member Ben Stewart said at the April 11 meeting he was supportive of the city taking steps to preserve resources but was the one dissenting vote, favoring a stricter rate structure rather than tighter outdoor watering schedules.

“My concern is the citizens have paid for the ability to treat water and consume water like this,” he said. “Now we’re saying outside of any kind of condition that would really need us to kind of restrict usage, we’re going to apply more regulation on top of this.”

The recent ordinance changes apply only to in-city customers for now, but the ultimate goal is to update customer service agreements across Georgetown’s extraterritorial jurisdiction so all Georgetown Utilities users are treated consistently, city staff said.

District 4 Council Member Ron Garland said if the city can properly educate the public about its efforts to limit water usage, it would ease concerns about both its available drinking water and the new watering schedules.

“I think the time frame on watering is just one of those things that most people will say, ‘That makes sense,’” he said.

According to city staff, increased water conservation measures are something the Texas Water Development Board would like to see when looking to allocate state funding in the future. The city is also required to provide the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality with a conservation report every five years.

Around 90% of the city’s water supply comes from Lake Georgetown and Lake Stillhouse—the elevations of which drop during the summer months. Solomon pointed to other states, such as California, where reservoir levels have significantly declined and said Georgetown needs to ensure it doesn’t end up in the same boat.

“All of our eggs are in the surface water basket,” she said. “So we need to learn from other people’s situations and just kind of make sure that we don’t repeat them and that we do the best we can to be efficient and responsible with what we have.”

Watering schedules

The city of Georgetown changed the times during which residents and commercial customers may use automatic irrigation systems and hose-end sprinklers.
  • Nondrought conditions: midnight-10 a.m. and 7 p.m.-midnight (two days a week)
  • Phase 1 of drought contingency plan: midnight-9 a.m. and 7 p.m.-midnight (two days a week)
  • Phase 2 of drought contingency plan: midnight-7 a.m. and 7 p.m.-midnight (one day a week)
New fee structure

Recent conservation measures approved by Georgetown City Council change the fee structure for watering outside of scheduled hours, separating residents from businesses. Fees are given after one courtesy notification and are based on what phase of the drought contingency plan the city is in and the number of violations in a 12-month period.
  • $50-$650 residential violations
  • $250-$800 nonresidential violations
Practicing preservation

Due to ongoing periods of drought, the city of Georgetown has encouraged residents to be good stewards of the city’s water supply and provided the following tips.
  • Only water when needed.
  • Ensure sprinkler heads are always aims at turf/planted areas.
  • Turn off irrigation systems when rain is forecasted.
  • Keep taller grass to protect the ground underneath and maintain moisture.
  • Use a broom to clean patios, decks and sidewalks.
  • Use a bucket of soapy water or have a nozzle attachment on hoses when washing vehicles.