Comal Springs

Comal Springs are the largest springs in the Southwestern United States and they are fed by the Edwards Aquifer. Courtesy of photographer John Moler.

 

Concern for the water level of Comal Springs and its potential impact on downstream communities has prompted New Braunfels Utilities to declare Stage 3 drought restrictions, effective Tuesday.

The declaration came after an NBU recommendation to Mayor Rusty Brockman to move into the third stage of drought restrictions to help curtail water usage to preserve the Edwards Aquifer level and Comal River spring flow as drought conditions continue with no relief in sight.

“New Braunfels has been faced with severe drought situations over the years,” Brockman said. “Our community has always taken the appropriate conservation steps to prevent the Comal Springs from going dry. It takes all of us to make a difference. Your cooperation in conserving to protect our Comal Springs is appreciated during these hot and dry days.” 

It’s the first time since 2015 that the city has moved into Stage 3.

According to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor data, most of Comal and Guadalupe counties are experiencing extreme drought conditions. The Keetch-Byram Drought Index, used to determine wildfire potential and estimate the soil moisture deficit, sat at 681 in Comal County. The drought index ranges from 0 to 800, where a drought index of 0 represents no moisture depletion, and an index of 800 represents absolutely dry conditions. 

And no rain is in the National Weather Service forecast. Expect high temperatures to hover around 100 degrees this week.

At the current rate of decline without any rain, officials fear that portions of the Comal Springs could stop flowing within two to three weeks as they did in 2014. 

“The Comal Springs flow is consistently dropping and is a habitat for endangered species and a precious natural resource that is important to the quality of life and economy of our community and beyond,” said Melissa Krause, NBU’s chief strategic communications and security officer. “During periods of extreme drought, more than 75% of the water in the Guadalupe River in Victoria is made up of water from the Comal and San Marcos springs. Downstream communities along with bays and estuaries depend on the Guadalupe River.”

During Stage 3 restrictions, landscape watering with a sprinkler is allowed one day per week, every other week based on the last digit of the address, with addresses ending 0 or 1 on Monday, addresses ending 2 or 3 on Tuesday, addresses ending 4 or 5 on Wednesday, addresses ending 6 or 7 on Thursday and addresses ending 8 or 9 on Friday.

Use of a hand-held hose, bucket, drip irrigation system or a soaker hose that does not spray water into the air is allowed on any day only before 10 a.m. and after 8 p.m. during Stage 3. 

In addition, aesthetics such as fountains and waterfall use are prohibited, and variance requests must be approved before new landscape installation.

Landscape installation is permitted only if not more than 50% of the available landscape area is planted with turf and if proper horticulture practices are followed.

A sprinkler or irrigation system is not permitted on the weekends during stages 1, 2 or 3.

Last week, NBU announced it had delayed entering Stage 3 drought restrictions, citing that over the past 10 years, the utility had nearly doubled its water resources. 

That announcement came when the Edwards Aquifer J-17 well 10-day average hit 639.5 feet, dropping below the Stage 3 trigger of 640 feet. The aquifer’s 10-day average on Monday was 636.5 feet.

NBU consistently monitors multiple climate and utility operating system factors to understand the severity of the drought. 

Crucial components that drive the NBU recommendation to the mayor on the drought stage include observing and understanding the percentage of the state’s drought conditions, the severity of those drought conditions, annual rainfall to date versus average rainfall and weather forecasts. 

NBU also monitors its system’s daily water pumping requirements, the Comal River’s spring flow, lake and aquifer levels and how long the drought has persisted.

Drought conditions are not limited to south central Texas. Nearly 80% of the state is experiencing varying levels of drought conditions.

With the state experiencing its most severe early summer drought conditions in nearly a decade, Texans are facing a wave of especially hot and dry weather that may kick off one of the state’s hottest summers on record, according to Texas A&M University climate expert John Nielsen-Gammon.

“June is typically a wet month for Texas, but it’s not shaping up that way so far,” said Nielsen-Gammon in a statement. “Except for West Texas, July is typically a dry month, so continued lack of rain in June could mean that we are stuck with a very hot summer. The hottest summer on record was in 2011, the one recent year in which June drought was worse than today. It would not surprise me if this summer ended up being the second-hottest summer on record for the state.”

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