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SAWS confident of water supply in face of continuing drought

Gonzales County water arriving, desalination on the way

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As dry weather continues to plague rain-starved San Antonio, San Antonio Water System officials are optimistic that conservation and new sources of water will keep the region thriving.

Greg Flores, SAWS vice president of public affairs, said one new source of water just began flowing in December.

"San Antonio's largest non-Edwards (Aquifer) supply is coming in now from Gonzales County -- enough for about 50,000 homes," Flores said.

He said negotiations are still underway with another water provider northeast of Austin, but that the utility is not ready to sign a contract because the risks inherent in such a deal have not been dealt with yet.

"One of the things that we wanted to do was take the risk off of the backs of our ratepayers," Flores said. "We want to make sure that San Antonians pay for what they get and that means if the water's not delivered, we don't want to have to pay for it."

Another new water source is in Bexar County. Construction on a water desalination plant will begin later this year.

"That will be online in 2016 right here in southern Bexar County," Flores said. "We'll be pumping salty water from right out of the ground."

He said if that project is successful and the need for more water is there, more brackish water could be used.

"We would expand that project enough for about 100,000 more homes," Flores said.

In the meantime, people in San Antonio are wondering whether Stage 3 or even Stage 4 restrictions will be imposed on outdoor watering before the summer.

Karen Guz, SAWS' director of conservation, said it is possible.

"It's really still too early to call it," Guz said. "We are watching the aquifer closely."

She encourages customers to conserve water and follow the current Stage 2 watering rules.

"At this time of year, you don't need to water even once a week and so you watch your plants and they'll tell you whether or not you need to water," Guz said. "We're not going to run out of water and we know it, we're just going to back off on our discretionary water use."

SAWS already encourages water conservation. One method: the WaterSaver Landscape Coupon Program. Customers can get $100 worth of drought-tolerant plants for taking out some of their grass.

"We're offering them a $100 coupon to help them get rid of 200 square feet of grass and replace it with something so pretty," Guz said. "You end up with instead of that grass that was difficult last summer you have pretty plants that are going to bloom and attract butterflies and hummingbirds."

Applications will be accepted on the SAWS website until April 30.

"The clock is ticking," Guz said. "It's cool outside. This is a good time to get new plants started before the heat of the summer."

She said Stage 3 restrictions, if or when imposed, would limit outdoor watering with a sprinkler system to once every other week on an individual's appropriate day and between the hours of 7 a.m. and 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Stage 4 restrictions would add extra charges for high water usage.