The Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District’s Board of Directors declared a Critical Stage Drought for the groundwater resources in the District’s jurisdiction, including the heavily used Barton Springs segment of the Edwards Aquifer, at its regular board meeting on Thursday, December 11. The declaration will require a 30% mandatory reduction in the authorized monthly use from all its permittees, which will in turn affect some 60,000 groundwater users, mostly in southern Travis and northern Hays County. This is only the second time in the District’s 21-year history that a declaration of this kind has been issued.
This year was the fourth driest on record. Austin’s Camp Mabry received around 15 inches of rain, a 17-inch deficit from average, and the contributing watersheds of the aquifer received even less. In addition, the summer of 2008 turned out to be one of the hottest on record, increasing the demand for groundwater. Consequently, on June 23, 2008, the District’s Board of Directors declared an Alarm Stage Drought, which required permittees to implement steps in their User Drought Contingency Plans to achieve a mandatory 20% reduction in monthly usage from their authorized levels.
While many exempt well owners, permittees, and their customers have made concerted attempts to achieve these reductions, water levels in the aquifer have continued to decline. In early December, the ten-day average discharge at Barton Springs fell below its critical level of 20 cubic feet per second (cfs) and the water level in the Lovelady Drought Indicator Well fell below its critical level of 191.8 feet (either of those conditions would have been sufficient for the Board to consider a Critical Stage declaration). Unfortunately, meteorological forecasts by the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center indicate that dry conditions may persist through much of 2009.
Existing groundwater users in the District will now have to cut back their monthly water use another 10% and heed more stringent restrictions. Their water suppliers (and/or the District) will inform end-users as to what obligations they must follow under Critical Stage Drought. Generally, groundwater users will be limited only to water use for essential (indoor) demands needed to preserve health and safety with a very minor allocation provided for some non-essential (outdoor) water uses such as maintaining small lawn areas for fire protection and foundation damage prevention. The District’s staff is committed to ensuring that such restrictions are as equitable as possible and will be taking steps during drought to guarantee that:
• New water withdrawals will not be authorized by permit during this drought;
• The restrictions included in the User Drought Contingency Plans that are part of every groundwater use permit will be aggressively enforced; and
• Rules that prohibit use by end users who are using water in a wasteful fashion will be enforced.
The District asks all of its constituents to continue their water conservation measures and be even better stewards of an increasingly scarce resource. A list of actions to save water in and around the home or office and the hydrographs for various monitor wells are available on the District’s website at www.bseacd.org. With continued lack of significant rainfall and high rates of pumping, water levels could drop to the extent that some wells could go dry and flow from Barton Springs could eventually decrease to the point where ecological, recreational, and aesthetic uses of Barton Springs would be harmed. The aquifer can no longer afford anything other than minimal use, and that may be the situation for many, many more months.