By Kim Hilsenbeck
Drought alarms are dinging around Hays County as water levels drop below established triggers set by the various aquifer authorities. The Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District (BSEACD) notified its permittees it was implementing Stage 2 drought protocols, which involves a reduction in water pumpage of 20 percent.
The city of Kyle, however, which has a permit to pump water from BSEACD, never came out of Stage 2 drought as of last May. Utility Coordinator Jason Biemer said Kyle residents have done a good job at reducing demand on the system.
The average daily peak and the average daily minimum, two factors used to gauge conservation efforts, indicate that Kyle citizens have a save-the-water mindset.
“There’s been a tick down in average daily demand every year since 2011 but [the city]also adopted a whole new strategy for conservation,” Biemer said.
Over the same time period, however, Kyle raised its water rates three times.
The roots of change in that mindset are not easy to pinpoint. Over the past several years, the city raised its water rates three times to counteract years of drawing down the utility fund into the general fund. During the same period, the city was more aggressive about preaching conservation, but Biemer said it also provided more education outreach about why it is important to save water.
That three-pronged approach appears to have made a difference, but separating out the root cause of the down tick is tough.
“If daily peak goes down, then that tends to be more a function of less irrigation,” Biemer said. “Most likely people don’t want to spend the extra money. When your minimum daily number trends down, that is conservation that tends to relate to ‘we’re thinking differently’.”
Kyle spokesperson Jerry Hendrix said, “What [citizens are]doing now has been very effective.”
Despite decreasing water reserves and stress on groundwater resources, Biemer said, “If demand trends hold up, I don’t foresee any problem right now.”
Of course, he added, things can change quickly in Central Texas.
He said Canyon Lake in Comal County is about 10-11 feet down from its normal. Kyle purchases part of its water reserves from GBRA, which pulls water from Canyon Lake. But the city operates on a hybrid system where it purchases water from multiple sources.
Biemer and Hendrix agreed they are not worried about Kyle citizens reverting back to their old habits.
“They already have the conservation mindset,” Hendrix said. “People understand the situation.”
Hendrix explained that when drought conditions worsen, the rules on how much the city can pump based on its permits may change. For example, he said, if Barton Springs (conservation district) demands its permitees cut back by 20 percent, based on demand, Kyle can reduce its pumpage by that amount but make up for it from other water sources, such as GBRA.
“If that doesn’t work, we increase the drought status,” he said.
Another factor in the mix is bringing in enough funds to pay for the water system.
“From a water utility standpoint, you’re selling the water,” Hendrix said. “The more conservation you push, the less money you make.”
Biemer added, “Some contracts you pay for water even if you don’t use a drop.”
The city has to bring in enough revenue to keep the water utility afloat.
Plus, Biemer said, “Securing water is getting harder and more expensive.”
Hendrix said Kyle water customers can visit the city’s website for information on water rebates. He also reminded residents that the city does not allow new landscape unless you get permission.
“You can’t have nice landscape unless a house is occupied,” Hendrix said.
And if property owners want sod on their yards, he said the city will typically grant a variance of an extra day of watering each week for four weeks. But homeowners need to request permission from the city before installing the sod.
About the trend of reduced water demand, Hendrix and Biemer said they would tell residents, “Keep up the good work.”
Hendrix added, “It’s gonna get worse before it gets better.”
“We don’t get to back off; this is just the way it’s going to be,” Biemer said.