The San Antonio Water System board voted May 23 to adopt revised drought rules and surcharges designed to re-emphasize water conservation. The city-owned water utility’s new restrictions will be considered for approval by San Antonio City Council by July, SAWS officials said.

What you need to know

The proposed rule revisions call for entering Stage 3 water conservation when the Edwards Aquifer Authority declares Stage 3 restrictions, which are based on a pattern of certain Edwards Aquifer water well levels.

SAWS is in Stage 2 restrictions, under which customers are allowed to do outdoor watering between 7-11 a.m. and 7-11. p.m. on the designated day that is determined by their address. The EAA is in Stage 3 restrictions; the aquifer authority reported the water level in the Bexar County J-17 well was at 632 feet on May 24, ahead of a Memorial Day holiday weekend meteorologists said would be dry and hot with high temperatures surpassing 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

At the Stage 3 level—640 feet—SAWS residents may water their lawn between 5-10 a.m. and 9 p.m.-midnight on the designated day based on their address.

SAWS officials said many customers asked for more hours on their designated day to do watering, especially in the morning.

SAWS officials said demand peaks during evening watering hours, adding that representatives from CPS Energy, the city-owned power utility, hope to see more energy-intensive customers, such as SAWS, help shift power use to later hours.

If council approves the proposed new rules, SAWS users who use hose-end sprinklers that can only be manually moved to request a variance from the water utility, which would let them water earlier in the evening.

Dig deeper

Another key rule change is to make drought restriction enforcement fairer, SAWS officials said. Instead of issuing San Antonio municipal court citations, SAWS will place a water waste noncompliance charge on the bill of a customer, regardless of address.

The first water waste charge for a single-family or small-commercial site will be $137, a fee that could be waived by taking a one-hour online course. Subsequent charges are higher to discourage repeat violations, SAWS officials said.

For violations to be filed, trained SAWS staff will have to witness and document the water waste incident in question.

Additionally, SAWS officials are proposing to place a new surcharge meant to encourage residential and commercial customers with particularly high outdoor use to conserve during Stage 3 or Stage 4 conservation periods.

For single-family accounts, the Stage 3 surcharge of $10.37 per thousand gallons will take effect for water use above 20,000 gallon a month. In Stage 4, that threshold drops to 12,000 gallons, SAWS officials said.

Also of note

Additionally, SAWS is proposing revamping rules for drip irrigation systems, which are exempt from sprinkler and hand-watering regulations.

SAWS leaders proposed limiting drip irrigation to three days a week in Stage 1 restrictions, two days a week during stages 2 and 3, and once per week in Stage 4.

SAWS officials received criticism, especially from commercial and industry customers, for an initial proposal to limit drip irrigation to once a week.

SAWS officials are also proposing to bolster efforts toward inspecting newly installed irrigation systems by inspecting irrigation plans prior to construction.

What they’re saying

Karen Guz, SAWS’ vice president of conservation, said regulations need to be tightened to help users in a growing city such as San Antonio conserve more water during times of drought. Guz said SAWS’ targeted water savings of just 10% were not met over the last two years.

“The good news is most people follow the once-per-week lawn watering rules,” Guz said in a statement. “By making some reasonable adjustments to our drought plan we can increase savings and reduce the chance of stricter rules in the future.”