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Aquifer drops to critical level; Cotulla’s wells can’t cope with demand
Cotulla residents are being asked by City Hall to help reduce the summer’s deep impact on a declining aquifer in an ongoing drought by cutting down on water usage.
The call for Stage 2 restrictions in the city’s water system came in a unanimous council vote July 14 and went into effect last week. The move was prompted by successive presentations in June and July by utilities supervisor David Wright and water department head Jimmy Oranday, who warned that the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer level has dropped to a point at which Cotulla should immediately reduce its water usage.
The city has an ordinance that automatically triggers action on water restrictions when the aquifer reaches a low point of 525 feet below ground. With no relief on the horizon for the foreseeable future in the form of lengthy periods of rainfall over South Texas, Oranday was joined by City Administrator Larry Dovalina last month in urging councilors to enact Stage 2 of the Cotulla Drought Contingency Plan.
Oranday told councilors on July 14 that his most recent readings of the aquifer level showed water at 523 feet below ground, only two feet shy of the point at which restrictions should take effect.
According to City Hall, Cotulla’s average water use stands at 1.9 million gallons per day.
Oranday said records indicate the aquifer level has dropped thirty feet in recent weeks.
Wright warned in June that Cotulla’s water wells are now approaching the lowest point of their reach and that some of the wells are not capable of drawing water from levels below 525 feet.
A report published in early July after a quarterly reading of water well levels in the region by the Wintergarden Groundwater Conservation District showed that some of the wells over the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer have registered a drop in the water table by dozens of feet since March.
Two wells near Cotulla were measured on March 31 and June 25 by the WGCD and showed the water table dropping by 20 to 30 feet between the two visits. Furthermore, taking into consideration a traditional dry spell in South Texas during the summer months and higher water usage by area residents, the comparison at one well between this year and last summer showed that water at the site eight miles west of Cotulla is thirty feet lower than it was in June 2021.
Stage 2 restrictions in Cotulla mean that residents are asked to limit all lawn and plant watering to nighttime hours to prevent evaporation, and to use hand-held hoses as much as possible instead of built-in automated watering systems.
Dovalina said on July 14 that he hopes city residents will limit their outdoor watering to the hours of 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.
Under the contingency plan established by the city, residents should only use automated systems to water their lawns and plants on specific days of the week. Those with addresses ending in even numbers (0, 2, 4, 6, 8) should water between 7 p.m. and midnight or midnight to 7 a.m. on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Those with street addresses ending in odd numbers (1, 3, 5, 7, 9) should only water their lawns and plants during the same hours on Saturdays, Mondays and Wednesdays.
Watering plants with hand-held hoses may continue any day for the time being, according to the Stage 2 order.
Water conservation is also being encouraged in all other uses, and residents should immediately stop washing buildings, driveways, walls and other hard surfaces.
Refilling swimming pools, children’s wading pools and jacuzzis should likewise be limited to nighttime hours on the designated watering days, according to City Hall, and car washing at home should be limited to late evening and early morning hours.
All fountains and water features should immediately be turned off to reduce unnecessary water use and evaporation, according to the city’s order.
Other water uses such as for flushing gutters or dust control should also stop immediately.
A Texas dining tradition of bringing ice water and menus to all restaurant patrons is also affected by the shortage and the city’s restrictions. Foodservice staff are now being asked to stop serving water unless customers ask for it.
“We hope that we can reduce water use in the city to 1.2 million gallons per day with these restrictions,” the city administrator said.
The motion to move the city’s water restrictions to Stage 2 was made by Councilor Tanis Lopez, seconded by Councilor Manuel Rodriguez. A publicity flyer advising residents of the advanced step in the drought contingency plan was posted Tuesday, July 26.