Water Conservation Challenges and Successes: Lessons from San Antonio
San Antonio, the seventh largest city in the United States, has much in common with Atlanta in terms of water management issues—a sprawling population, highly variable rainfall, and a climate that is prone to drought. In 1996, the Edwards aquifer, which serves the San Antonio area, was found to be low enough that it threatened the status of five federally protected endangered species, causing the federal government to impose pumping limits. The city was tasked with developing a conservation plan immediately.
After this concerted effort, San Antonio has become a water conservation success story. Since 1984, the San Antonio Water System (SAWS) experienced a 67 percent increase in customers, but it has observed no increase in the percentage of water usage (see Figure 3-1). Through the San Antonio experience, SAWS staff have learned that it is possible to grow and thrive economically while meeting water management challenges, and that drastic lifestyle changes are not required to make dramatic changes in gallons per capita.
SAWS developed a three-pronged approach to conservation. The first is creating financial incentives for customers, such as rebates for new equipment in homes and businesses, as well as rate structures that discourage high discretionary usage. The second is education and outreach: SAWS hosts public events, produces an e-newsletter, and provides home consultations, particularly for the top 1 percent of residential water users. News outlets report aquifer levels every day, making the entire community aware of their water-use limits. Education of the community is considered an important and ongoing effort. The third approach is the development of reasonable regulations or far-reaching ordinances that cover a wide range of activities involving water.