PARCHED: Edwards Aquifer drops to its lowest level since 1990

Three years of drought & population growth have taken a toll on San Antonio’s main water source

On Friday, August 18, the J-17 Well dropped to the lowest level since 1990.

On Friday, Aug. 18, the Edwards Aquifer dipped to its lowest level since July 1990 — 33 years ago. For context, that’s the same year MC Hammer’s hit “U Can’t Touch This” was released!


  • Edwards Aquifer at its lowest level since 1990
  • Stage 2 water restrictions will remain in place for SAWS customers
  • Stage 3 & 4 water restrictions in place for some water customers outside of San Antonio - check with your water provider!
  • A switch to an El Niño weather pattern provides cautious optimism for healthy rain in 2024

WATCH: How does the Edwards Aquifer work & why is it so heavily regulated? KSAT Explains 🤔

Meteorologist Sarah Spivey explains how the Edwards Aquifer works

Lowest water level since 1990

The water level for the Edwards Aquifer is measured at the J-17 well, which was drilled at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston in 1914. Since 1932, the U.S. Geological Survey has taken continuous measurements of the aquifer at the well. The vast amount of historical data makes the J-17 well valuable, and its measurements are very reliable. See more about the J-17 well in the video below ⬇️

The aquifer report number comes from a measurement taken at the J-17 well. That number sets water policy for millions.

Because the measurements at the J-17 are so reliable, we can determine that Friday’s reported level of 625.7 ft. above sea level is the lowest measurement since July 6, 1990. This is even lower than the recent lowest measurement in September 2014, when widespread drought slowed local rivers to a crawl and Medina Lake nearly completely dried out (Click for video archive).

So how does our current weather setup compare to July 1990 and September 2014?

It’s somewhat similar meteorologically. We were dealing with drought during the summers of 1990 and 2014 — although not as intense or as long-lasting as the current drought of summer 2023.

1990 and 2014 were also La Niña years. We’ve recently shifted away from a three-year-long La Niña weather pattern, with forecasters calling for a “strong” El Niño by winter.

One BIG difference in 2023 is that the number of people living in South Central Texas — meaning those who consume water from the Edwards Aquifer — has grown tremendously since 1990.

U.S. Census data in 1990 recorded the Greater San Antonio Metro Area population at a little more than 1.4 million people. In 2020, the population nearly doubled to more than 2.5 million people!

That’s a lot more folks using Edwards Aquifer water.

Water Restrictions & The EAA

Here’s an interesting fact: The Edwards Aquifer won’t run dry in our lifetime. So why do we have water restrictions?

It’s a complicated story, but The Edwards Aquifer Authority (EAA), which regulates the aquifer, was created in 1993 in response to a federal judge’s ruling.

The ruling required the Texas Water Commission to maintain flows from the Edwards Aquifer-fed Comal and San Marcos springs in order to protect endangered species. You can see more about the Edwards Aquifer in the video below ⬇️

The Edwards Aquifer Authority was created on May 30, 1993. More than 20 years later, the EAA is by all accounts, a success story.

Back to those regulations. With such low levels of the Edwards Aquifer being reported, the EAA has issued Stage 4 water restrictions. HOWEVER, your individual water restrictions will depend on your water provider:

SAWS Customers

  • Stage 2 restrictions remain in place.
  • Although the Edwards Aquifer is SAWS’s main source of water, the utility uses other water sources as well. Curious about where your water comes from? Read more here.
  • According to the utility, “SAWS is able to meet the Edwards Aquifer Authority (EAA) requirements through conservation and SAWS water supply portfolio consisting of 14 water projects from eight different sources. The utility’s diverse non-Edwards Aquifer water supplies and customer compliance with Stage 2 rules will make up for the reduced Edwards pumping requirements from EAA. However, for this to succeed customers must follow Stage 2 watering rules.”
  • SAWS officials said customers can expect increased patrol and ticket citations in areas where portions of the water system show tank levels dropping overnight beyond normal demand. First-time offenders will receive a citation with municipal court fines of up to $150. More than 3,000 citations have been issued for water waste so far this year.

Texas Water Company Customers - Stage 3 restrictions are in place

New Braunfels Utilities - Stage 2 restrictions are in place

Boerne Utilities Customers - Stage 2 restrictions are in place

City of Lyle - Stage 4 restrictions are in place


Any hope for healthy rains soon?

After such a brutal summer, it would be nice to say definitively if we’ll see drought-busting rain this fall, winter, and spring of next year. Unfortunately, any meteorologist worth their sand knows that you can’t forecast months in the future. However, depending on how the tropical wave in the Western Gulf plays out early next week, a few areas could find some rain, depending on where that disturbance ends up tracking. Better chances favor those south of San Antonio at the moment, but there are still plenty of details to fine-tune as we get a better picture this weekend. Looking ahead, a switch to an El Niño weather pattern does give us cautious optimism that 2024 will be more beneficial when it comes to rainfall. You can read more about that here.

If you’ve been in San Antonio long enough, you know that our droughts tend to end in major floods. Remember October 1998 and Memorial Day Weekend 2015? We sure do.

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About the Authors:

Sarah Spivey is a San Antonio native who grew up watching KSAT. She has been a proud member of the KSAT Weather Authority Team since 2017. Sarah is a Clark High School and Texas A&M University graduate. She previously worked at KTEN News. When Sarah is not busy forecasting, she enjoys hanging out with her husband and cat, and playing music.

Justin Horne is a meteorologist and reporter for KSAT 12 News. When severe weather rolls through, Justin will hop in the KSAT 12 Storm Chaser to safely bring you the latest weather conditions from across South Texas. On top of delivering an accurate forecast, Justin often reports on one of his favorite topics: Texas history.