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WATER CONSERVATION ORDINANCE
In April of 2000 the City of San Antonio and SAWS instituted a strong water use response to drought conditions based on the Edwards Aquifer Authority requirements. Some naysayers said that our citizens would be unhappy about a structure of drought restrictions and a strong enforcement effort. They were wrong. Not only were the drought restrictions effective, a diverse array of new incentives and education efforts have been added with the result that San Antonio has been recognized with State and National awards for our water conservation success.
Despite our success as a community, you are probably one of a large majority of San Antonians that believe there is more we can do to conserve water. The next major step will be to implement a new Water Conservation Ordinance. The Community Conservation Committee is working with SAWS staff to bring the proposed ordinance to the SAWS Board and City Council late this fall. Many of you provided input on the ordinance through the SAWS website survey and by commenting at events such as the Neighborhood Resource Seminar.
Among the most important provisions included are provisions focusing on the landscape that will require rain sensors on all irrigation systems by 2006. Rain sensors are already required on new systems as of 2001. SAWS has a rain sensor rebate that will continue to be offered until the deadline set in the ordinance. Pop up spray heads or rotor technology in newly installed irrigation systems would be prohibited from use in narrow strips less than 5 feet wide. Overspray onto sidewalks and streets wastes water, contributes to non-point source pollution and can damage streets. Other technologies such as turf bubblers or drip is available to property owners wanting permanent irrigation for turfgrass, trees, or shrubs located in these narrow planting strips. Hand watering is also available.
A provision addressing car wash fundraisers is included that would prohibit car wash fundraisers except when held at a permanent certified car wash facility utilizing the car wash equipment. SAWS maintains a list of certified car washes that are located in all sectors of the community. Experience with charity car washes found that groups raise more money at the certified car wash than they do with “parking lot” car washes.
Deed restrictions for residential subdivisions are addressed. In these provisions deed restrictions may not require or enforce a requirement for specific percentages of turfgrass. This means a property owner’s association may not say that you must have a minimum of 50% grass in your front yard, for example. They will still be able to enforce maintenance requirements. They may require living material like ground covers and they may disallow rock or other inorganic material including concrete. There are such a wide variety of plants available to work with that this provision should not impact, but can enhance the beauty of your neighborhood. Grass species that cannot survive summer dormancy without supplemental irrigation may also not be required by a property owner’s association under these provisions. Residential subdivisions including property owner associations could also not require irrigation systems be installed and would not be able to require the use of irrigation systems or that an irrigation system be run on a certain schedule. Again they would be able to enforce maintenance standards as long as it does not include provisions that require you to keep your grass green all summer.
For new homes built after 2005 a minimum of four inches of soil must be present under turfgrass if turfgrass is to be installed in both residential and commercial landscapes. Soil requirements would not be applicable to planting groundcovers, trees or shrubs, but only turfgrass. Turfgrass incapable of summer dormancy would be prohibited from being installed in new residential or commercial landscapes. This provision is probably the most controversial of the provisions offered. Many turf grass varieties capable of summer dormancy are now available to customers and can meet a variety of needs. Continued installation of turfgrass that cannot survive extended periods without irrigation is no longer necessary to meet shade or preferred texture requirements. The ability of turfgrass to go dormant and then recover protects customer investments and allows customers a choice of whether or not to irrigate during very dry periods.
Another provision, and a close second on the controversy scale, is a provision that high flow toilets would be required to be upgraded to modern efficient toilets if not already in place when a property is sold beginning in 2006. SAWS has had a toilet rebate available to residential customers since 1994 with 60,000 customers taking advantage of this program. Free toilets have been available to SAWS residential customers since 1999. Commercial customers have had a generous rebate for toilets available since 1997 and free toilets have been available since 1999. Over 77,000 residential and 40,000 commercial toilets have been changed. The youngest high flow toilet is already 12 years old. This provision alone will accelerate water savings and result in a savings of 11,000 gallons of water a year for each residential toilet replaced, including apartments, and up to 30,000 gallons of water a year for each commercial toilet replaced depending on the business.
Another particularly innovative provision will require very large commercial buildings with large air conditioning systems to collect the condensate water that drips, or more accurately flows, from air conditioning systems and require that new buildings use it for irrigation or cooling towers. Referred to as “condensate collection” SAWS staff believes that this has tremendous potential as an on-site water source. If you have comments or suggestions please send Dana Nichols an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 704-7323.