Galveston County Public Water Systems Face Restrictions

The Brazos River in Pickwick, Texas - June 30, 2012
The Brazos River in Pickwick, Texas - June 30, 2012

Galveston County could face water shortages in the next few months as its public water systems begin to feel the stress of the summer heat, though the most likely cuts will be to outdoor watering.

The Gulf Coast Water Authority, which serves all of Galveston County except for the city of Friendswood, could potentially run out of water in less than 180 days, according to a Texas Commission on Environmental Quality list of public water systems that have implemented usage limits in municipal areas. Seven other public water systems that serve Galveston County have self-reported as on “watch” for drought priority, which means they have more than 180 days of water remaining.

TCEQ spokeswoman Andrea Morrow said the list was composed of self-reported data from public water systems. Public information officers and the city manager from the city of Galveston did not respond to requests for comment.

The GCWA holds water rights to more than 450 acre-feet of water from the Brazos River, but it began running out of water on June 14, said general manager Ivan Langford.

“The river, in essence, ran dry,” he said.

The GCWA notified TCEQ on June 14 that it could no longer forecast water for the next 180 days, and it began releasing previously stored water that it bought from the Brazos River Authority. The Brazos River Authority owns and operates 11 lakes and reservoirs on the river basin and sells water at certain times of the year.

The GCWA bought 90,000 acre-feet of water for the year, though it will last less than 180 days “unless we get rain,” Langford said.

The amount of water drawn by other water rights holders to the river could also change the estimated 180 days’ supply, Langford said. Dow Chemical, one of the oldest water rights holders on the Brazos River, has already asked TCEQ to tell junior water rights holders to stop pumping from the river and those orders were issued Monday, Langford said. 

Water restrictions have also already hit rice farmers in the area, Langford said.

“They will not be able to plant a second crop,” Langford said. The first crop of rice will be harvested in the next few weeks, but there will be no water for a second crop of rice. “The stored water we do have available we’re reserving for municipal and industrial customers,” he said.

Many municipal areas in Galveston County operate their own groundwater wells, though they are reserved as backup sources of water, Langford said. Groundwater is limited, and there are restrictions on how much can be drawn on each day.

According to the TCEQ list, the San Leon Municipal Utility District, which services parts of Galveston County, is currently in drought response stage two, which places moderate restrictions on water and bans most outdoor watering. The city of Galveston’s public water system is currently in drought response stage one, which places mild restrictions on water for “non-essential” needs such as outdoor watering, along with three other public water systems. Three public water systems on the TCEQ list are in the least-serious “voluntary” stage, which asks customers to voluntarily limit water use.

The city of Galveston also implemented stage two of its drought contingency plan in late June, which restricts outdoor watering to designated days and times.

But the weather forecast suggests more mild conditions this summer than that of the 2011 drought.

“If you look at the long-range weather forecast, it’s not a dire projection by the National Weather Service, so we’re not by any means overly concerned at this point,” Langford said. “We’re just trying to be conservative and be cautious and get us through the normal drought summer.”

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