Drought conditions have worsened across Texas during the blistering summer, with many cities enacting water restrictions or burn bans.
In Central Texas, which is enduring an extreme drought, the demand for water has stressed local aquifers and dried up springs, prompting local officials to enact strict watering bans, according to Inside Climate News.
In the Houston region, the drought’s impact on water restrictions often hinges on where you live. Residents in Houston have been asked to voluntarily conserve water, while the city of Katy, which relies on a different water supply, enacted mandatory measures Monday that restrict lawn-watering to two days a week. Residents face fines if they don’t comply.
Here’s how the drought has affected water supplies in the Houston area, and what may be in store for residents worried about water restrictions:
Houston’s Drought Contingency Plan
Houston primarily depends on water from the Trinity and San Jacinto rivers that fill local reservoirs. Erin Jones, public information officer for Houston Public Works, said the drought hasn’t dramatically affected the city’s water supply — but it has increased demand.
Since June 2022, the city of Houston has been under Stage 1 of its Drought Contingency Plan, which asks residents to voluntarily conserve water. The city hoped to reduce its overall water consumption by 5 percent during this stage — but so far, has failed to reach that goal.
“We were never able to really get out of it,” Jones said of the water restrictions. “We’ve been trying to catch up.”
The last time the city moved to Stage 2 of its Drought Contingency Plan was in 2011, she said, a record-breaking summer when Houston reached or surpassed 100 degrees 46 days that year. Stage 2 would require mandatory water conservation from the public and increase the city’s reduction goal from 5 percent to 10 percent.
Jones said she couldn’t comment on whether Houston is close to Stage 2 watering restrictions. The Houston Public Works department would be required to meet with the mayor to move to Stage 2, and the mayor would sign off before any public announcement is made, Jones said. The city also is required to notify the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
San Jacinto River Authority
Houston owns most of the water rights at Lake Conroe, where levels are currently lower than usual, but not as low as lake levels during the drought of 2011.
“Right now, Lake Conroe is a little more than a foot low due to the drought,” said Heather Ramsey, director of communications and public affairs for the San Jacinto River Authority. “This is expected for these types of drought conditions.”
The lowest Lake Conroe has been was in 2011, when it was about eight feet below the normal level.
The river authority manages and operates the Lake Conroe dam and is a wholesale water supplier. It provides treated water to large-volume users in Montgomery County to supplement the water supply.
Additionally, the San Jacinto River Authority operates 38 water wells and three wastewater treatment facilities in The Woodlands.
Katy enters Stage 3 drought conditions
The city of Katy relies on seven wells that pump water from the Gulf Coast Aquifer. The Houston suburb entered severe drought conditions on Monday, after a recommendation from the city engineer David Kasper was given to city administrator Byron Hebert.
“As of today, the city of Katy has reached such a high level of water demand that the city’s Stage 3 Drought Contingency triggers have been met,” Kasper wrote in an August 14 letter to Hebert.
Residents only are allowed to water on certain days, depending on their address. No watering is allowed on Mondays. Stage 3 is mandatory and residents can be fined for violating the restrictions.
Water conservation tips
Jones said she encourages people to take shorter showers, only run full loads of laundry and water lawns twice a week and overnight. Houston Public Works recommends watering between the hours of 7 p.m. and 5 a.m.
“Make sure that sprinklers are watering only the landscape, not the driveway, sidewalk, or street,” reads a statement offering watering tips on the city’s website. “Do not water on windy days. If you see water running off of your landscape into the street or sidewalk this may mean that your sprinklers are not properly aligned, that you are applying too much water too quickly, or that your soil is already saturated with water.”
Jones said the city is seeing more water leaks this summer. Public Works recommends that people call 311 if they notice any leaks from fire hydrants or water pipes.
Houston Public Works is hiring contractors to repair a rising number of leaks this summer, she said, which doesn’t help the city’s conservation efforts.
“We just need people to use less water, and we’re trying that, as well,” Jones said.