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‘One Less Gallon We Have To Pump’

Drought, history dictates, will hit us again and again. So what gives? We do

Photo by Woody Welch

Rain doesn’t fall evenly—or consistently—across Texas. And worse, history bluntly indicates that drought will hit us hard, time and again. So what gives? The answer: We do.

The Texas Water Development Board’s 2012 state water plan hinges on a variety of management strategies, from building new reservoirs and pipelines, to expanding water desalination facilities, to reusing water. “There is no magic bullet,” says Dan Hardin, director of the TWDB’s water resources planning division. “It’s going to take a little bit of all of them.”

But, Hardin says, “Conservation is what can be done the most immediately.”

Some people are being forced into reducing water usage, such as in West Texas, where reservoirs are going dry. Then there are huge cities like Dallas, which began conservation efforts about three decades ago and has saved a projected 120 billion gallons of water since 2001. Over the past eight years, Dallas Water Utilities has surveyed more than 10,000 miles of underground pipeline, repairing leaks that officials estimate would have cost the city billions of gallons of water.

Then there are the personal touches, such as free irrigation system checkups for customers and the “New Throne for Your Home” program in which more than 18,500 toilets have been replaced with low-flow units. Perhaps it’s a stretch to say that any Texas city is flush with water, but Dallas is working hard to not let it go wasted down the drain.

The same goes for San Antonio, where conservation efforts are yielding an estimated savings of 1.3 billion gallons of water a year. Karen Guz, director of conservation for the San Antonio Water System, a city-owned public utility, urges all residents to ask: “How are we doing?”

From the looks of things, pretty darn well, starting with a diversified water-supply system that eases pressure on the Edwards Aquifer, the city’s main water source. San Antonio, through the largest system of its kind in the nation, can deliver about 29 million gallons of recycled water a day, making up roughly 11 percent of the total water supply on a typical day. The water is used by golf courses, parks, commercial and industrial customers—including CPS Energy, the city’s municipally owned electric utility—and at the River Walk, a famous tourist spot. There, recycled water augments natural water features along the San Antonio River.

San Antonio even makes withdrawals from a special water bank: an underground storage and recovery facility in the Carrizo Aquifer, whose sand formation makes it ideal for holding drought-ready water pumped from the Edwards Aquifer. And there’s a high-tech component in the works: a desalination plant scheduled to go online in 2016 with the capacity to create about 10 million gallons of freshwater a day from brackish water in the Wilcox Aquifer.

Above all, says Guz, who serves on the state’s Water Conservation Advisory Council, San Antonio encourages habitual, everyday water savings, not emergency drought measures: Name a water-savings incentive rebate, and the city probably offers it.

To that end, officials are seeing the tide turn: SeaWorld San Antonio, for example, recycles air-conditioning condensate to keep decorative fountains flowing. And one recent morning, Guz dropped everything to hear developers discuss plans to install rainwater harvesting and drip-irrigation systems at a new shopping center. Oh, one more thing: Could they get a rebate for equipment to capture and re-use air-conditioning condensate?

Yes, Guz said, happily adding that the San Antonio Water System would even help pay for the shopping center’s water-saving irrigation system. As water utility spokesman Anne Hayden sums up: “Every gallon we save is one less gallon we have to pump.”