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Learn how we can make watering rules more fair and effective

Important updates to the watering rules will not impact those already following Stage 2.

With scarcely a drop of effective rainfall this summer and local springs, lakes and wells drying up, our community’s Edwards Aquifer water supply has been fluctuating around a thirty-year low, with no easy way out while we await beneficial rain.

Thankfully, SAWS’ alternate water supplies mean San Antonians are not at risk of running out of indoor water. In the meantime, the city’s conservation ordinance helps extend our existing water resources and lessen the demand for landscape water by prohibiting water waste and imposing watering rules when the Edwards Aquifer level drops.

However, despite Stage 2 watering rules that have been in place since April 2022, there have been clear challenges to achieving water savings under the current ordinance.

  • The San Antonio area’s population has surged and SAWS now serves more people in places where city citations cannot be issued for those who violate rules; specifically, those in separately incorporated cities or outside the extra-territorial jurisdiction.
  • The enforcement consequence for violating watering rules is a municipal citation. This means a lengthy court process that can be a burden to both customers and city prosecutors. The $137 fine for water citations has been unchanged in 20 years.
  • The current citation cost and process is not influencing very large water users whose bill is much larger than the current citation amount.
  • Drip irrigation has become very popular and current rules allow it to operate every day during Stages 1 and 2. The problem: Drip irrigation has the same application rate as spray irrigation. Except for growing food, there is no logical reason to allow those with drip to run it daily, and many sites with drip are watering several days a week and using a lot of water.
  • Automatic irrigation systems are popular at new homes and businesses. Unfortunately, design and workmanship are poor for some new irrigation systems, resulting in water waste now and in the future.

Watering with a sprinkler, irrigation system or soaker hose is allowed only between 7-11 a.m. and 7-11 p.m. on your designated day.

Your watering day is designated by the last number of your street address:

0 or 1 – Monday
2 or 3 – Tuesday
4 or 5 – Wednesday
6 or 7 – Thursday
8 or 9 – Friday

Watering with a hand-held hose is allowed any time on any day.

The vast majority (90%) of water users diligently follow the watering rules. Many have kept their water usage low.

Despite Stage 2 watering rules, about 10% of residential and commercial customers are watering more than once a week — taxing the tanks, pumps and pipes that transport water to high-use areas and leading to increased main line breaks.

SAWS has increased campaigns to explain the rules, and we’ve increased patrols which has resulted in over 7,000 water waste citations in 2023.

But as we look at continued high usage by a small percentage of customers, we are asking a key question: “How can we increase the savings from once-a-week watering rules without impacting those who are already doing what we have asked?”

To make watering rules more efficient, fair and effective, these are the updates we’re considering.

  1. Changing enforcement measures from a municipal court citation to a fee on the bill to ensure watering rules apply fairly to all SAWS customers — including those in separately incorporated cities. This is already a common practice for many Central Texas water utilities.
  2. Adding fees for very high usage or repeat violators in an effort to influence large users or those not complying after one violation to make a change.
  3. Implementing an excess-use surcharge for high users (at top 5% of usage) in place of the current Stage 3 watering rules, which limit outdoor watering to once every two weeks.
  4. Limit drip irrigation to watering one day a week on the designated watering day. (A drip variance is being proposed for those growing food and vegetables.)
  5. Ensuring a more thorough inspection of new irrigation systems so customers at new homes and businesses get the benefit of the high standards set by the State of Texas.

Water users who already follow the watering rules would not notice a change from these updates.  For drip users, we are happy to offer free consultations to review how systems can be optimized.

Going forward, a period of community discussion has begun. Your opinion is important! Visit wateringrules.com to share your input and learn more about the proposed rules update.

In the coming months, the SAWS Board and San Antonio City Council will consider acting on changes to the existing watering rules.

In the meantime, thanks for doing your part to conserve water! For more on conservation education and incentives to transform thirsty landscapes into more drought-resilient options, visit GardenStyleSanAntonio.com.

Picture of Brad Wier
Brad Wier
Brad Wier is a SAWS conservation planner. Years in South Texas landscaping and public horticulture gave him a lasting enthusiasm for native plants that don’t die when sprinklers -- and gardeners -- break down. He’d rather save time and water for kayaking and tubing. He is a former kilt model, and hears hummingbirds.
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