Texas State looks to conserve water during Stage 4 drought

Senior News Reporter
A Stage 4 drought was announced after Edwards Aquifer index well level fell below 630 feet above mean sea level.

Texas State is cutting down on water usage and developing educational water conservation programs for students in response to the city implementing Stage 4 drought restrictions for the first time.

The City of San Marcos entered Stage 4 drought restrictions Aug. 17, just five days after the Edwards Aquifer Authority (EAA) announced Stage 4 conditions. According to a city press release, while San Marcos has been enforcing drought restrictions nearly continuously since April 2011, this is the first time in history that a Stage 4 drought has been declared.

A Stage 4 drought is implemented when the 10-day average Edwards Aquifer index well level falls below 630 feet above mean sea level (msl). The EAA announced Aug. 12 the 10-day average aquifer level had fallen to 629.7 msl.

There are no specific measures outlined for Stage 4 in the drought ordinance, so city officials have decided to continue the Stage 3 rules and increase the enforcement of those rules, said Jan Klein, conservation coordinator for City of San Marcos, in a press release.

Calvin Finch, director of the Water Conservation and Technology Center in San Antonio, said drought restrictions are put in place to ensure that the water supply in the aquifer will stabilize.

Finch said there is an increased amount of people and higher demand on the aquifer than ever before.

“Everybody is anxious to see what that means in terms of whether or not we fall to lower and lower levels than we have in the past,” Finch said.  “It may mean it takes us longer to recover, but we do expect to recover because the Edward’s Aquifer is such a wonderful resource.”

It could take only one or two years of heavy rain to return to the pre-drought conditions of 2010, Finch said. In the meantime, the university is doing its part to help conserve water in the midst of drought, he said.

“Texas State is a major player in the conservation plan, and they have already dedicated and loaned some of the water they own to the water conservation program,” Finch said. “Their managing practices, like maintaining their golf course and landscaping, have been effective.”

Kyle R. Estes, associate director of Housing Facilities Services, said the university has adjusted its water practices and decreased water usage.

“We need to be conscious of the water issues in San Marcos,” Estes said. “Obviously it’s putting stress on our landscaping—we have to keep an eye on the trees, the grass, that sort of thing.”

During the construction of Falls and Sayers Halls, landscaping such as shrubs and turf were forgone because of the low water levels, Estes said. The university had the water rights and the ability to plant, but they ultimately decided to hold off until the drought was over, he said.

“We’re going to come back in the fall once the drought lifts and maybe we’ve gotten some rain and then plant those materials later,” Estes said.

Estes said he hopes to educate residents on water conservation. Christopher Barnes, Tower Hall director, and Estes are planning an educational water conservation campaign for Tower Hall residents.

“We’re probably going to have an educational event or workshop and make it a hall-wide activity, and we’ll talk about water conservation,” Barnes said. “From there, we’ll challenge residents to use the timers and only take five-minute showers.”

Barnes plans to hand out shower timers to Tower residents to help students manage their time and water usage in the shower, he said.

“We would see how much water we’re using for the month of September, and then in October, we’ll go ahead and implement the shower timers to see if there’s a change,” Barnes said.

Tower’s progress in using less water will be tracked, Barnes said. Decreasing water usage by half is one possible goal for the program.

Finch said he hopes that besides decreasing water usage, students will learn more about conservation efforts and how to properly adapt their day-to-day lives during Texas droughts.

“You’re being exposed to a typical Texas phenomenon,” Finch said. “We have these long-term droughts and recoveries, and managing the water resource during this cycle is something that a lot of you will be affected by.”