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20130322 Water-Faucet featureMISSION—The long drought looms heavily, threatening not only agriculture, but some cities in the Rio Grande Valley as the water shortage grows more severe.

Hidalgo County is one of the Texas counties currently at the exceptional drought category, the highest level of drought severity, according to a map provided by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).

Cities across the county, including McAllen and Pharr are scheduled to implement Stage 2 Water Conservation and Drought Contingency Plans. AGUA SUD, which supplies water to parts of La Joya, Penitas, Palmview and Sullivan City, implemented Stage 2 conservation months ago. This plan limits landscape irrigation with hose-end sprinklers and automatic irrigation to only two days per week, according to a resident’s address.

Mission Interim City Manager Martin Garza said the city is currently still at a Stage 1 conservation status, which encourages residents to voluntarily conserve water on their own.

“What we are doing is following a contingency plan set a few years back…in 2009, if I’m not mistaken,” Garza said. “We are monitoring the use of water and at the same time we are in contact with the United Irrigation District. We have been meeting regarding the water and water rights.”

All water rights holders along the Rio Grande, including Hidalgo County, receive water from both the Amistad and Falcon Reservoirs according to TCEQ. According to the most recent report from the International Boundary and Water Commission completed on March 9 there is 1,271,193 acre-feet in the U.S. system, which is just over 37 percent of total capacity.

Garza explained there are certain limits the city has to meet with water usage to be declared a Stage 2 drought situation. He said if there were a single day that 18 million gallons are used, the city would go into Stage 2.

Also, if there were five consecutive days of 16 million gallons of water used, this would create the urgency for Stage 2 conservation. In the month of February the average daily use of water by residents in Mission has averaged at 12.5 million gallons per day, the highest peak last month was 13.5 million gallons.

Though water is supplied to residents by the city through water rights, the AGUA Special Utility District also services parts of Mission. AGUA SUD covers parts of La Joya, Palmview, Peñitas, Sullivan City and western Hidalgo County homes outside of city limits, explained AGUA SUD District Manager Frank Flores.

Water supply districts hold the responsibility of enforcing conservation plans.

“We have been at a Stage 2 since September 12 (2012),” Flores said. “We mailed out mandatory restrictions to our customers.”

Sharyland Water Supply is responsible for the service of Alton and Palmhurst. General Manager Sherilyn Dahlberg said their supply goes up to the boundaries of Edinburg, McAllen and Mission.

“Currently, even though water levels are down, we are not in a severe situation yet,” Dahlberg said. “We are in a drought; we have not hit the target that has to be hit to impose the restrictions.”

Dahlberg added they have been under voluntary conservation. She said they are working to reduce consumption by five percent, though it is not drought related.

“We are following TCEQ guidelines for reducing the amount of pumpage,” Dahlberg said. “We have a target to reduce consumption by five percent per household and make a gradual decrease…it is for long term sustainability of our water source.”

The general manager added, once the levels drop more in the reservoirs then their customers will move into the reduction of water use.

Alton City Manager Jorge Arcaute said though the city follows orders through Sharyland Water Supply; the city has also made changes for water conservation purposes. He explained specific water heads and toilets are part of new plumbing requirements to help use less water.

“We have sewer rates that are volumetric, the more water you use, the more you are charged,” Arcaute said. “The sewer rates work off of water consumption.”

With rates based on water use, he added, usually customers try to keep their bills smaller. Arcaute added newsletters from this point forward from the City of Alton would stress water conservation.

While the area struggles with the reservoirs that slowly drop in volume each year, in 2010 the Amistad and Falcon reservoirs were overflowing with water due to Hurricane Alex and Tropical Depression #2 according to TCEQ.

Waters from these storms filled reservoirs in Mexico that flowed to the Rio Grande River filling Hidalgo County’s reservoirs. These waters flowed and flooded parts of the Rio Grande Valley; since the water could not be stored, the water was released into the Gulf.

A TCEQ representative explained the large amount of water was more than what could be stored in the system. When asked about running out of water for municipalities, TCEQ said the event is unlikely at this time but added, cities should ensure they have sufficient water rights for the current and growing demand.

“Right now, according to our contingency plan, we are in the proper stage,” Garza said. “We are not at Stage 2 yet and we are going to continue to monitor the levels to determine our future.”

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