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Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance fosters unique plan for areawide water use goals

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Experts say the current drought in Texas is the most extreme the state has seen since the 1950s.

As a result, the supply of water is the lowest these experts say they have witnessed in that same time period.

For many residents of Texas, the prospect of a shrinking supply of water is terrifying–for obvious reasons such as the basic fact that water is necessary for human existence, but beyond that, for a community that is growing, it affects the Hill Country financially.

Groundwater supplies many of the rivers and other karst features in this part of Texas, which in recent years has supported an ever larger portion of the area’s ecotourism income.

Some local cities are currently running very low on water–for example, the city of Kyle, recently had to purchase water from the city of San Marcos to boost its supply.

Intense drought and a growing population have created what is close to a dire need for water, and this means that protecting the water that is here is all the more imperative, according to experts who are spending time drafting long-range plans for saving the efficacy of the Edwards Aquifer and water supplies generally.

Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance Policy Director Rachel Hanes has created a water reuse plan for the Hill Country, which she said has the potential to be impactful in preserving our existing water supplies.

“Water reuse is important,” Hanes said. “Because any bit of water we can recycle is water that we can then keep in the aquifers or our lakes and rivers.”

According to Hanes, water reuse systems can provide supplemental resources in addition to existing supplies, while diverting wastewater effluent from sensitive waterways. She said the dumping of treated wastewater is a common practice in some areas.

“In the state of Texas under our Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and also the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency], when you treat wastewater to a high enough quality, it can be used to supplement river flows,” Hanes said. “In the Edwards Aquifer Region and in the Texas Hill Country, the TCEQ does have rules against that in many places just because of the unique environment of our streams and creek beds in the region … Normally you do it and it’s perfectly safe because you put it into lakes and rivers that have dirt and vegetation and things that filter the water an extra step—almost like a tertiary treatment, but in the hill country … there’s nothing to add that extra layer of filter.”

The Texas Water Development Board recommends that water reuse make up 15% of the state’s water supply by 2070, however Hanes said there are currently not many Hill Country counties with a comprehensive system in place for reuse of treated wastewater.

Hanes said “purple pipes” are used to transport reclaimed water.

“Usually wastewater treatment plants treat wastewater effluent to a high enough quality that it can then be reused,” Hanes said. “And this water is transferred through these ‘purple pipe’ networks to wherever it’s distributed, whether that’s a new development of housing for landscape, or a sports complex for the field irrigation, or here in San Antonio it’s used to supplement the San Antonio River flows in the Riverwalk.”

Hanes said water reuse for non-potable uses would reduce the demands placed on groundwater supplies.

She cited cities that currently engage in water reuse across Texas, which include: San Antonio, Boerne, Big Springs, Fredericksburg, El Paso, Lakeway and Round Rock.

These cities can be used as a blueprint for the development of such a plan locally. Hanes said a water reuse district could be created and modeled after the one that was in San Antonio. According to the Alliance for Water Efficiency website, the Alamo Water Conservation and Reuse District was an independent city agency created to develop a system for reuse of treated wastewater, which is no longer in operation.

Hanes said there are state and federal grants and loans that could be used for the implementation of water reuse districts including: the Clean Water State Revolving Fund or the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Large-Scale Water Recycling Program.

She said similar to the San Antonio Water System’s model, rates, charges and fees from the sale of waste products like biosolids or biogas generated from the reclamation of wastewater could help fund the reuse district. “I think that water reuse is something that everybody should look into,” Hanes said. “But definitely the hill country, where we are so dependent on our aquifers and surface waters as our sources, which are subject to the impacts of drought that we are seeing now.”

The report can be found at .

San Marcos Record

(512) 392-2458
P.O. Box 1109, San Marcos, TX 78666