Jun 5, 2023 - Climate

Rain brings needed relief to San Antonio, but drought isn't over yet

Data: San Antonio Water System; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: San Antonio Water System; Chart: Axios Visuals

It's been a wet spring, with more rainfall in San Antonio this year than we saw all of last year. That's welcome news as drought conditions have improved — but don't get too excited yet.

What's happening: The nearly foot of rain we've received so far this year is about an inch less than normal.

Why it matters: Our pocket of Texas has experienced moderate to exceptional drought with restrictions on water use for more than a year. Drought can affect our health, food supply, economy, environment and more.

By the numbers: The Edwards Aquifer, the source of more than half of San Antonio's drinking water, is currently at about 648 feet above sea level.

  • That's an improvement. It was around 639 feet above sea level about a month ago.
  • The aquifer was at about 631 feet last August.
  • Drought restrictions are triggered when the aquifer drops below 660 feet below sea level.

What they're saying: "The aquifer is doing much better than it was not that long ago," Karen Guz, vice president of water conservation for the San Antonio Water System, tells Axios.

Yes, but: We need lots more rain to get us out of the woods, Guz says.

  • For now, San Antonio remains in stage 2 watering restrictions. That means you can only water with an irrigation system or sprinkler once a week from 7am-11 am and 7pm-11 pm. You're assigned a designated day of the week based on your address.
  • With normal rainfall, we might be able to exit stage 2 restrictions by the end of the year, Guz tells Axios.

Of note: To exit drought conditions sooner, Guz says, "We'd need to really have an extraordinary rain event, in the right place, lasting long enough."

  • As we enter the hot summer months, the aquifer level could drop again.

Threat level: SAWS has been issuing citations to people not following the watering rules, to avoid further restrictions for everyone.

The big picture: San Antonio is under water restrictions most of the time, Guz says. That's why SAWS encourages replacing thirsty lawns with drought-tolerant plants.

How it works: Rain needs to fall in the right place — over the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone, which sits in the Hill Country — to help replenish our drinking supply.

State of play: As rain has returned to San Antonio, more wildflowers have popped up this year along highways and trails. People are getting their hopes up that popular Hill Country swimming holes may be safe for recreation once again.

  • Rivers and lakes may be in better shape than they were last year, but don't expect them to be fully flowing, Guz says.

What's next: The aquifer level typically drops in June due to high demand as farmers draw water for crops, Guz says. It then begins to level off in July and recover by October.

The bottom line: This year is a relief compared to last year. But we're not out of drought yet and we're likely to see water restrictions through at least the fall. So check your watering schedule.

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