Water Restrictions Beginning in Texas Drought

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Lush, green lawns may be a luxury Mother Nature won't allow this summer in parts of Texas.

    The harsh drought already plaguing farmers and ranchers in the nation's second largest agriculture state will soon begin squeezing its water supply as temperatures heat up and demand grows across parched Texas.

    The worst drought the state has seen in decades has so far only prompted a small portion of the state's water suppliers to implement restrictions, but that number is expected to rise significantly as Texans use more water to fill their pools and keep their lawns green.

    Texas just endured its driest-ever eight-month span and some parts have not seen significant precipitation since August, prompting drastic drops in lake and underground water levels.

    "The medicine to it all is going to be rainfall," said Roland Ruiz, spokesman for the Edwards Aquifer Authority, the main water source in eight counties around San Antonio.

    That region, which remains in the worst drought stage, includes a large cluster of the 175 water suppliers that have implemented voluntary or mandatory water restrictions. Although more than 4,500 suppliers have yet to do so, weather experts predict prolonged dry conditions will force more drastic action.

    All the state's water suppliers are required to submit drought contingency plans specific to their situations to the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality. The plans map out what conditions trigger specific restrictions, most of which pertain to limits on days and times people can do outdoor watering. The limitations become more severe as drought worsens, which has been the case since the fall.

    The statewide rainfall average for October through May was 7.5 inches, about a quarter inch less than the previous record from August 1917 to March 1918. May, typically the state's wettest month, did little to alleviate the problem, yielding less than half its average rainfall at an estimated 1.65 inches.

    Now weather experts wonder how much precipitation hurricane season will bring as more than half the state remains in exceptional drought due in large part to a La Nina weather pattern that has also stoked dry conditions in surrounding states.

    The lack of rainfall has already prompted action by those who manage and deliver water to Texans.

    On Thursday, the Edwards Aquifer Authority went into Stage II of its critical management plan because of declining levels in the underground source.

    Water suppliers who pull from the aquifer, including the San Antonio Water System, were told to reduce their pumping by 30 percent, creating a ripple effect that will impact residents in small towns and cities in the region.

    "We don't micromanage and microregulate," Ruiz said. "We simply say this is the goal you have to meet. How you get there is up to you."

    In Central Texas, the Lower Colorado River Authority has asked its water suppliers to voluntarily reduce pumping by 5 percent. The LCRA provides water from Lake Buchanan and Lake Travis for 134 suppliers, including Austin and 49 other municipalities. These lakes help supply water to more than a million people in the area and to industry, businesses and agriculture.

    The lakes' levels are at 63 percent of combined capacity, down from a year ago when they were at 89 percent, river authority spokesman Anton Caputo said. Without rain, there has been nothing to flow into the lakes from rivers, creeks and tributaries.

    For the first time, Midland and Odessa imposed water restrictions such as when residents can water their lawn and gardens.

    Matt Irvin, Odessa's utilities director, said there was a bit of rain one evening within the past few weeks.

    "And I bet you could go out and count the drops," Irvin said.