Forecast Calls for Conservation

Stage 2 watering restrictions are now in effect

A low-water area of Lake Travis
A low-water area of Lake Travis

Central Texas has been in a severe drought for a long time – and now the city is requiring everyone to behave accordingly. Effective Monday, Aug. 24, Stage 2 restrictions go into effect, per the city's Drought Contingency Plan. Violators can incur up to a $500 fine; the city has warned that it will be writing tickets. What was the trigger, hit Aug. 12? A combined storage level of less than 900,000 acre-feet in the reservoirs – Lake Travis and Lake Buchanan – drawn upon by Austin Water Utility.

Don't expect the restrictions to ease any time soon. In fact, the U.S. government's latest global warming data and projections indicate that the heat and lack of rain experienced this summer could become a permanent way of life in Central Texas. To maximize conservation, a number of Austin environmentalists have called for the city to keep Stage 2 restrictions permanently in effect, or even go to Stage 3. Using less water also means reducing the prodigious energy use required to pump and treat it – thus reducing the city's greenhouse gas emissions, too.

Here's the new Stage 2 reality: Outdoor watering is prohibited, except on one pre­assigned day per week (except hand watering, which can be done at any time). On the specified day, residents may water with a hose-end sprinkler, a soaker hose, or drip irrigation – but only before 10am and after 7pm. (These hours help to reduce the most precious and expensive peak use of both water and electricity.) Those with automatic irrigation systems can schedule them to run only between midnight and 10am. The designated days are:

Houses, duplexes, and fourplexes:

Saturday, odd-numbered street addresses

Sunday, even-numbered street addresses

Apartments, condos, HOA common areas, and commercial properties:

Tuesday, odd-numbered street addresses

Friday, even-numbered street addresses

Need to wash your car? To do it yourself, the same day and time restrictions apply. No running hoses – it's allowed only with a handheld bucket or a hose with an automatic shut-off nozzle. (To make every drop count, wash the car over the lawn.) "Efficient" commercial car washes have no restrictions.

In addition, the following restrictions apply under Stage 2:

Restaurants can no longer serve tap water unless a customer requests it.

Spray-washing sidewalks, driveways, parking areas, patios, or other paved surfaces is prohibited (try a broom) unless necessary to protect public health, safety, or welfare.

No charity car washes.

Outdoor and indoor fountains must be shut off, except to provide aeration for aquatic life.

No automatic fill valves are allowed for pools or ponds.

Golf courses: Irrigation is limited by specific rules.

While not required, AWU also requests that customers run dishwashers and washing machines only at night. Water waste is prohibited year-round; violations are Class C misdemeanors. To report violations you notice (what fun!), use the online reporting form on the city website or call 311. (The city can't make state facilities follow the rules – and so far, they haven't.) For more information, including answers to frequently asked questions, visit AWU's water conservation website at www.cityofaustin.org/watercon.

If the drought worsens, the city could progress to Stage 3 restrictions. That could happen at the city manager's discretion; it's triggered by lake levels below 681,000 acre-feet. The highlights: Hand watering only, no new landscape installation, no vehicle washing, commercial car washes limited to noon to 5pm, commercial nursery watering limited. The city's full water-use management ordinance is online at www.cityofaustin.org/sws/code.htm, in Chapter 6-4 of city code.

Meanwhile, pray for rain. To organize a neighborhood rain dance, check out the instructive videos on YouTube or just make up your own chant and yell it while spinning in clockwise circles.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Austin Water Utility, drought contingency plan, conservation

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