Aug 29, 2023 - News

Drought causing San Antonio water main breaks

Illustration of a faucet with a drop of water with a sad face.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

The combination of extreme heat, a drought and lack of attention to watering rules is stressing San Antonio pipes.

By the numbers: The San Antonio Water System had 754 breaks and leaks in August as of last week, utility officials said.

  • Officials expect around 965 breaks before the end of this month.
  • There were 729 breaks and leaks in July.

Why it matters: Many Texas pipes are old, making them prone to cracking during droughts and extreme weather.

  • In 2021, the state lost about 132 million gallons of water from breaks and leaks, according to the most recent Texas Water Development Board audit report. In 2020, that number was 136 million.

State of play: Hot, arid summers can cause soil to dry out and shift. Pipes already straining under increased water usage can shift in the dry, cracked ground, causing breaks.

  • All of Bexar County and much of the Hill Country is experiencing exceptional drought, the most severe drought stage.
  • San Antonio has been under stage 2 watering restrictions for most of the year, and many neighboring communities have ramped up their watering restrictions in the past month.
  • In San Antonio, stage 2 restrictions mean watering with a sprinkler, irrigation system or soaker hose is allowed only from 7-11am and 7-11pm on a designated day every week determined by the last digit of your address.

Flashback: A water main break at The Rim shopping center in June caused Brasão Brazilian Steakhouse and the Santikos Palladium movie theater to close on Father's Day.

The big picture: High demand for outdoor watering has led to record pumping that causes breaks, per SAWS.

  • The utility recently proposed changes to its drought management plan, seeking better enforcement to save water.
  • SAWS has issued around 6,000 water waste citations so far this year.

Zoom in: SAWS had more than 50 crews working around the clock last week to make repairs, the utility said.

  • Given the high number of leaks, SAWS repairs them based on a priority system, labeling leaks as emergencies, urgent or routine.
  • You can find a map of water leaks and their assigned priority levels online.

What they're saying: "We need the cooperation of our customers to reduce outdoor watering, so the stress of ongoing drought on our infrastructure is reduced," Carlos Mendoza, SAWS vice president of distribution and collection, said in a statement.

Threat level: Water main breaks can lead to boil water notices because the water isn't safe to drink.

  • Boil water notices have become more common statewide. About 3,000 notices were issued last year across Texas, double the number issued in 2015.

The bottom line: During the drought, everyone can chip in to help maintain our infrastructure by conserving water.


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