Cities Coping With Drought As Summer Heat Intensifies

While San Antonio, Texas, and Loveland, Colo., may not have a lot in common – a Southwest powerhouse with 1.4 million people and a community of 66,000 located 46 miles north of Denver – they share a concern: drought conditions. With summer here, the two communities are taking steps to ensure a steady supply of high-quality water. 

Despite hot, dry weather, neither community is panicking. Instead, they’re taking reasonable steps and working with residents to curtail water use in ways that won’t severely impact quality of life or business interests. 

SAWS takes watchful approach 

San Antonio Water System (SAWS), which provides water and wastewater services to more than 1 million people, is coping with five years of severe drought. Its federally regulated Edwards Aquifer is 10 to 15 feet below normal, while Medina Lake, a reservoir in the Texas Hill Country, is only about 5.5 percent full, with other lakes at or near record low levels. A Memorial Day downpour did little, as most of the water was lost to runoff. Yet SAWS maintains a steady-as-she-goes position. 

“If you walked around, you wouldn’t notice we’re in a drought, because the grass is so green,” explains SAWS Communications Manager Anne Hayden. “We’ve been in Stage 2 water restrictions for the better part of the last year, but we don’t consider it an emergency. Stage 2 means that you can water once a week on your designated day, based on the last number of your street address, between 7 and 11 in the morning and 7 and 11 in the evening. If you do it efficiently, it’s not a problem.” 

Still, San Antonio residents must contend with year-round restrictions that work like this: When the 10-day average of the aquifer drops to a certain level – 660 feet above sea level – Stage 1 takes effect, which is the once-a-week watering before 10 a.m. and after 8 p.m. Stage 2 occurs when the aquifer drops below 650 feet; that means fewer hours for watering, but residents still have a designated day between 7 and 11 a.m. and 7 and 11 p.m. Stage 3, which hasn’t been implemented yet, kicks in when the aquifer drops below 640 feet on average; then residents water once every two weeks. 

Water quality unaffected 

“The restrictions are just the way we manage the effects of the drought,” Hayden says. “We have our aquifer storage and recovery site to the south where we have stored 89,000 acre-feet. We have been withdrawing water over the past year. Once the drought eases, we’ll be able to start injecting water back in there.” 

She’s quick to point out that the drought hasn’t affected San Antonio’s water quality, maintaining that SAWS produces excellent quality water that requires little or no treatment. It’s pumped from the aquifer, chlorinated, fluoridated and distributed. Water from smaller sources, such as Medina Lake, require an ultra-purification process. 

Loveland keeps water flowing 

Some 845 miles away, Loveland is facing its own drought, with the city’s water treatment plant struggling to meet the community’s daily water needs as summer heats up. 

According to a June 6 article in The Reporter Herald newspaper, the plant – which normally produces 17 to 18 mgd – had to run at about 27 mgd, because of the near-record temperatures recorded across the state, which forced Loveland residents to shoot up their water usage by 10 million gallons. In fact, the city had to turn to the Little Thompson Water District for extra water. 

“We can borrow up to 3 million gallons a day, provided they have it,” Water Treatment Manager John McGee told the newspaper. “Normally they do have the capacity, but when they’re running their system on a hot day they have limitations, too.” 

Community support vital 

While a $19 million expansion of the water treatment plant is one of Loveland’s major capital projects in the coming years, in the meantime, officials say that education is a major component in helping the city keep the plant within capacity and is part of the Drought Response Plan recently approved by the City Council. That said, Loveland Water and Power has rolled out “Shave the Peak,” the voluntary water use program the city has used for the past two years. The program asks residents to follow an odd/even schedule for lawn watering through the end of August. So far, the council has not imposed watering restrictions. 

Soliciting resident support has been a hallmark of San Antonio’s approach to drought management. “Thanks to the people here cooperating and fully participating, it has been very successful,” Hayden says. “Greater than 99 percent of the people follow the water-restriction rules. We never ask people to cut down their water use for health and hygiene; we have plenty of water for that. But the bulk of what most people use water for is outdoor landscaping, which can be modified without significantly affecting quality of life. We need water for business interests and health and hygiene, but we have plenty and it’s no problem.” 


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