Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Water rights and wrongs

Here we are in the middle of one of the worst droughts in history. In Central Austin we are up to 59 days this year that were over 100°, and no relief in sight (this week: 100°-103° predicted for highs every day), none promised until El Niño hits this Fall. The average is about 12 days a year at 100° or higher. Some other counties have over 70 days over 100. Lake levels are also approaching or matching record lows. People who rely on wells for their water supply are finding themselves running very low, or going dry altogether. Crops have been hit hard and animals have nothing to eat. This drought started sometime last year, and you can see by this map that we are in a situation here.

Drought monitor

Effective on Monday, the 24th, we will be on Stage 2 water restrictions from the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA), upgraded from Stage 1, with higher numbers meaning more restrictions.
* Outdoor irrigation is prohibited except on assigned days at designated times (see once-per-week schedule)
* Golf fairway irrigation is limited to assigned days before 10 a.m. and after 7 p.m.
* Golf tee and green irrigation is limited to every other day
* Vehicle washing is limited to designated days and times, with a hand-held bucket or a positive shut-off nozzle on a hose*
* A person may not conduct or participate in a charity car wash
* The use of outdoor ornamental fountains is prohibited except to provide aeration for aquatic life
* A person may not fill, refill, or add water to an indoor fountain
* No automatic fill valves are allowed for pools or ponds
* Washing of sidewalks, driveways, parking areas, patios or other paved surfaces is prohibited*
* A restaurant may not serve water to a customer unless requested by the customer

*Exceptions are made for washing necessary to protect public health, safety or welfare

This is why it’s so hard to understand how some people can be so oblivious to the situation, so above giving a shit about what they must obviously think is not their problem. The Statesman periodically publishes the residential properties and owners with the highest water usage. The latest winner/loser is Vignette founder Neil Webber, who used 1.74 million gallons in six months. He has been using more water in one month than most Austin households use in a whole year.

Another property in the top 10 is a house which has been empty for years, and for sale for a few months. For June and July it used a total of 347,500. The owner justifies it with the water needs of new landscaping. Others making the list include U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul (R) and UT professor and former CIA Deputy Director Bobby Ray Inman. The June & July top 10 lists are between ~130,000 and 316,000 gallons a month, with the average residential usage being 9,000-12,000 gals. They all have a laundry list of excuses and apologies, sometimes blaming a leak (which doesn’t wash, no pun intended, as a well-intentioned millionaire could probably get that repaired as soon as they became aware of it), but usually just blaming it on the demands of plants.

This kind of water usage is basically legal as long as you pay your bill. Stage 2 brings with it some fines for water-use violations, but I really doubt that people who pay water bills in the thousands of dollars will care much about being hit with a $500 fine.

Our drought in the news

Local newspaper


AArdvarker said...

I agree with all of this. We must conserve. My grass is getting all brown. Hoping for rain.

Blueberry said...

I admire your brown grass. We ripped out the grass and put in drought-resistant plants. That works too. Hoping for rain too but thinking it won't help much until it cools off (October??). Between the bugs and the heat, I'm looking forward to the cooler half of the year.