San Marcos faces environmental risks as high temperatures continue

todayAugust 28, 2023 93 3 5

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By Preethi Mangadu  

News & Culture Director 

SAN MARCOS — In the midst of ongoing high temperatures and dry conditions in Central Texas, San Marcos is entering Stage 4 drought restrictions this week, while also battling elevated wildfire dangers.  

The Ongoing Drought 

In June, San Marcos entered Stage 3 drought restrictions after previously being in Stage 2 since March 2022. But as the heat persisted, the Edward Aquifer continuously lowered, leading to Stage 4 restrictions being implemented on Sunday at noon.  

“This summer we’ve seen a pattern of hot, dry weather that has been the main contributor to the decrease of our water supply,” Madeline Baker, San Marcos government’s communications specialist, said. “Since June, when San Marcos entered Stage 3 drought restrictions, there has been no relief from extreme heat or excess water usage.” 

Stage 4 is implemented because the 10-day average Edwards Aquifer index well level falls below 630 feet above mean sea level. On Aug. 21, the daily reading was 626.7 feet, and the 10-day average aquifer level was at 626.6 feet.  

“The dropping aquifer levels are most visible in the amount of spring flow we see coming into the river,” Rachel Sanborn, director of operations at the San Marcos River Foundation, said. “The river has been well below normal for almost 3 years and has dropped significantly more in 2023.” 

The worst drought in San Marcos’s history was in 1956. At that point, water usage and the effects of climate change were less in the 1950s, but now the Edwards Aquifer is under better protection through the Edwards Aquifer Habitat Conservation Plan in 2013.  

“At the time, the Comal did go dry while the San Marcos did not, but since the 1950s, the population growth has gone from 500,000 people using the aquifer to over 2 million now,” Sanborn said. “So, we are all crossing our fingers for very significant rains. In the past, only flooding has taken us out of drought and refilled the aquifer.”  

While the rain last week provided a small amount of relief, it was not enough to combat the high temperatures. Consistent above-average rainfall would be needed to get out of this drought.  

Many counties in the surrounding areas that use the Edwards Aquifer are also in Stage 4.  

Stage 4 Drought Restrictions 

Drought restrictions limit or prohibit water irrigation, sprinklers, car washing, pool filling, decorative water attractions and more.  

For Stage 4, sprinkler use is allowed biweekly based on designated days and times. Sprinklers are not allowed to be used on Saturday and Sunday. 

Other restrictions include: 

  • Waste of water is not allowed.  
  • Irrigation with automatic sprinkler irrigation systems is allowed only one day biweekly between 8:00 p.m. on the assigned weekday and 4:00 a.m. on the next day. 
  • Irrigation with a soaker hose and drip irrigation system is allowed one day per week before 10:00 a.m. or after 8:00 p.m. 
  • Using outdoor aesthetic water features is not allowed. 
  • Washing impervious surfaces is not allowed unless necessary for health and safety purposes. 
  • Non-commercial vehicle washing is allowed one day per week and should be with a hand-held bucket or hand-held hose equipped with a positive shutoff device. 

To view the full list of restrictions, visit the SMTX Utilities Conservation and Drought page.  

Increased Wildfire Risks 

Similarly, the Hays County area has been facing high wildfire risks throughout the summer.  

According to the Hays County Office of Emergency Services website, Hays County has seen multiple wildfires this season that burned hundreds of acres and destroyed structures, a notable one being the Oak Grove Fire in early August. The weather extremes have contributed heavily to this risk.  

“San Marcos has always been subject to weather extremes, frequently going from droughts to floods, but it does seem that a general heating of the planet will impact areas like ours a lot, resulting in higher temperatures for longer periods of time,” Sanborn said. “The dry summers, without our usual rainfall in May and October months, has made the area a tinderbox and at real risk of fires.”  

These conditions also make fighting fires for first responders difficult. Fire stations have been working to adjust to ongoing risks, according to a press release issued in July.  

“Since that time, local fire departments still continue to respond to controlled burns and extinguish them,” Hays County Fire Marshal Mark Wobus said in the press release. “Local fire departments have modified their apparatus response plan to have more resources available. State resources (TFS) have increased the available assets that may be requested by local fire departments if needed.” 

However, many fires are preventable because most wildfires are human-caused. The most common causes are debris burning and equipment use, such as chainsaws, welding torches and saws.  

Several counties in Central Texas face increased wildfire risks. Governor Greg Abbott issued a Wildfire Disaster Declaration in early August, which includes Hays, Comal, Guadalupe, Harris, Austin, Bexar and more.  

Burn Ban  

Hays County has been under a Burn Ban since July 11, which was set to last about three months. Restrictions apply to those who live in the county.  

Burning brush, trash or debris is completely prohibited within the county. Using or storing a charcoal burner, open flame, LP gas burner, outdoor grill, electric grill, barbecue or other outdoor cooking appliances within the property of a residential building with three or more units or a multi-family residential building with two or more stories is unlawful.  

For more detailed information on how the Burn Ban affects San Marcos, visit the San Marcos Fire Department website.  

What can San Martians do?  

Residents of San Marcos can put in effort to help decrease the drought and wildfire risks.  

San Martians can be aware of and limit their water usage, such as taking shorter showers and not washing their cars, to help mind the resources San Marcos has. 

“Even though San Marcos has multiple water sources, the extreme drought is putting a strain on water supplies,” Baker said. “We must come together as a community to protect the precious water resources we currently have available.”  

Community members can also pay attention to burn bans and practice fire safety when it comes to using fire. Hays County Emergency Services provides a personal wildfire action plan with advice to prevent wildfires and ensure safety.  

“Stay wildfire aware,” Wobus said, in the press release. “If you spot one, contact 9-1-1 immediately. A quick response can save lives and property.” 


Written by: Preethi Mangadu

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