Drinking water is becoming an increasingly precious commodity in many small cities and rural water systems as the 1996 drought drags on across northern and western Texas.
Overworked pumps, falling water tables and water lines broken by parched and shifting soil are forcing customers to cut back.
About 280 small towns and private water supply companies statewide have reported mandatory or voluntary water restrictions to the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission.
That’s a dramatic increase over most years, commission spokeswoman Linda Fernandez said.
“There are real problems out there,” she said. “Brownsville is having water mains break because the soil is so dry. San Antonio is having quadruple the number of water main breaks they normally have.”
The commission expects conditions will become worse.
“Our best chance for sustaining rains lies in the autumn,” she said. “We may be getting some isolated relief from the hurricane season, but not anything enough to replenish rivers and streams and restore underground water supplies.”
In the Panhandle, four cities that depend on McKenzie Reservoir in Briscoe County are getting less than 50 percent of their normal supply.
In East Texas, the small town of Edgewood closed coin laundries and car washes and banned all but emergency water use after the town’s reservoir nearly dried up. With help from the state, Edgewood built a 10-inch-diameter water main to bring water from Lake Tawakoni, 10 miles away.
Historically, this year’s long, hot summer doesn’t compare to the drought of the early 1950s, when rainfall in some parts of the state averaged only 14.05 inches a year.
Back then, Dallas had to pump brackish water from the Red River. The long-range effect was rusted-out radiators and water heaters, said John Jadrosich of the Trinity River Authority.
Over the years since, larger cities have built more reservoirs.