Water: For Thirsty Lawns or Thirsty People?

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Comming soon? Stage III water restrictions will allow this kind of watering only once every two weeks. Photo courtesy SAWS.

Coming soon? Stage III water restrictions will allow this kind of watering only once every two weeks. Photo courtesy SAWS.

Milan Michalec

According to the San Antonio Water System (SAWS) a typical commercial irrigation system uses on average 20,000 gallons of water per use. A poorly maintained, leaky system can triple that figure.

In a San Antonio Express-News interview about the ongoing drought, SAWS Conservation Director Karen Guz noted in that in 2011, the turf covered medians within the Stone Oak area, north of San Antonio, consumed 30 million gallons of water outdoors for irrigation. In contrast, in the same general area, North Central Baptist Hospital used 28 million gallons indoors.

A portable water storage tank used by California based Western Oilfields Supply Company. These tanks may be seen around San Antonio marked with the logo “Rain for Rent”.  This particular model can hold up to 21,000 gallons. Photo by Dan Sherrard

A portable water storage tank used by California based Western Oilfields Supply Company. These tanks may be seen around San Antonio marked with the logo “Rain for Rent”. This particular model can hold up to 21,000 gallons. Photo by Dan Sherrard

When the City of San Antonio was flirting with stage three drought restrictions last summer, restricting landscape watering to once every other week, Guz revealed that 70 to 100 million gallons of water were being used by San Antonio residents each day on landscaping.

The Texas Water Development Board estimates that 40 percent of all municipal water use is outdoors. Of that, half is lost to runoff from the excessive watering of lawns.

This is drinking water that is simply wasted. This is water that could easily be conserved.

The four 5,000 gallon storage tanks that form the core of a residential rainwater harvesting system. Photo by Andrew Michalec

The four 5,000 gallon storage tanks that form the core of a residential rainwater harvesting system. Photo by Andrew Michalec.

The 20,000 gallon system pictured above includes the filters and sanitation equipment that provide all of the drinking water needed for family of three who built their modern home near Bergheim, eliminating the need to drill a well. Despite two years of drought, the system averages 75% of full capacity. As the landscape is appropriate for the area—native turf and drought resistant plants, virtually no water is used outdoors.

Some may be thinking: I pay good money for my water, why should I care how much I use or if some of it is wasted?

San Antonio is dependent on a sole-source aquifer—the Edwards Aquifer. In order to comply with Federal law, limits have been placed on how much water can be withdrawn. To meet the water needs of this rapidly growing city, SAWS develops water from other sources.

Using water from other sources and wasting it outdoors is done at the expense of others—ultimately it strains the availability of drinking water of others.

A map of the subdivisions that began receiving groundwater from the Trinity Aquifer in 2002. Courtesy of SAWS.

A map of the subdivisions that began receiving groundwater from the Trinity Aquifer in 2002. Courtesy of SAWS.

The same areas began receiving surface water from Canyon Reservoir in 2007. SAWS customers in northwest San Antonio began receiving water from this source in 2006.

Non-Edwards sources like these are increasingly being exposed to the demands of the rapidly growing regional population in counties surrounding San Antonio such as western Comal and Kendall where rural residents have few, if any, alternate sources of water.

Whether it is taking personal responsibility for one’s water supply for a life in the Hill Country or changing the way one uses it in a city like San Antonio, we should consider that we are all part of the water cycle—all water is being used by something at some time.

Both our ground and surface water supplies originate with the first drop rain that falls on the land which in turn is captured by complex, large-scale ecological processes involving many variables including plants, animals, soils and geology.

When these natural processes function optimally our aquifers are replenished, springs flow, rivers run and lakes fill. When we reduce our water waste there’s more left not only for our enjoyment and consumption, but for the needs of all living things.

Remember that water conservation in times of plenty is just as prudent as it would be when it is in short supply. By changing the way we use water today, we may very well avoid having to make the choice between water for thirsty lawns or thirsty people tomorrow.

 

Milan J. Michalec is a Director on the Cow Creek Groundwater Conservation District in Kendall County and the 2013 President of the Hill Country Alliance, a non-profit organization dedicated to education, conservation and cooperation throughout the Texas Hill Country. 

 

Related Stories on the Rivard Report:

SAWS Education Campaign Pushes Drip Over Spray Sprinkler Systems

Spring Ag Irrigation Could Move City Toward Stage III Water Restrictions

SAWS to Take Water Conservation Outside: Just Say “NO” to Automatic Water Sprinklers

San Antonio Lawn Makeover:  Before Next Drought, Say Goodbye to Water Guzzling Grass

Aquifer Falls Below 640 Feet, but Stage III Restrictions Stay on Hold

The Cost of New Water:  A City That’s Outgrown its Aquifer

 

 

2 thoughts on “Water: For Thirsty Lawns or Thirsty People?

  1. The restrictions enforced by HOAs and historical districts concerning the use of “unsightly” water cachement systems, xeriscaping, solar energy systems, and even clotheslines need to be eliminated. These organizations need to let loose of their elitist concerns and look at the real necessity of these methods. In fact,landscaping with native materials, rain barrels, and clotheslines ARE historically accurate.

    • Any specific places your thinking of? From what I’ve heard, a lot of local HOA covenants don’t include strict landscaping requirements, and some of those that do actually encourage things like xeoroscaping. I agree that we should let go of our “elitist concerns” when it comes to landscaping, but I’d be surprised to learn that more than a small proportion of our city’s water guzzling property owners were actually forced into their ways.

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