Water Watch

BELTON — Bell County’s aquifers are in dire straits.

“The district’s system of watching and recording rainfall averages over the Edwards Aquifer clarifies that we have a serious situation at hand,” said Dirk Aaron, the general manager of the Clearwater Underground Water Conservation District.

Bell County’s heat and drought conditions caused the Belton-based Clearwater to upgrade its voluntary water conservation stages for the Edwards and Middle Trinity Aquifers on Tuesday.

The Edwards Balcones Fault Zone Aquifer in now in drought Stage 3 while the Hensell Layer of the Middle Trinity Aquifer is in Stage 2.

For those tapping into the Edwards Aquifer, Clearwater is asking users to curb their usage by 30 percent. As for the Trinity, well owners are operators are asked to cut back their water usage by 20 percent.

Both requests are voluntary.

Previously, Clearwater placed a Stage 1 water conservation request in late June.

The Edwards Aquifer — located in southern Bell County — is in a dire condition, Aaron said.

“The Edwards Aquifer can respond quickly due to the minimal rains but our long-term dry conditions necessitate an aggressive curtailment of groundwater use at least until the fall,” he said.

Data collected by Clearwater in June showed the Edwards Aquifer being 7 inches behind in its recharge zone. Now, that number is 10 inches.

Salado Creek depends upon water being recharged through the Edwards Aquifer. And like the aquifer, the creek is seeing a decline in its flow. Salado Creek had an average flow of 5.92 cubic feet per second. As of July 30, the flow declined to 4.57 cubic feet per second.

“We are in the hottest part of the summer so please look at Salado Creek, Lampasas and Leon Rivers if you don’t believe we are dry,” Aaron said. “There is a direct correlation with wildfires and drought.”

Bell County is experiencing a moderate drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. The Keetch-Byram Drought Index, which measures the moisture depletion of an area, showed the county with an average reading of 688. The higher the number, the drier it is.

Bell County Fire Marshal Steve Casey said in the past month there have been about five wildfires during which the county’s fire strike teams have been called. There were about 20 smaller grass fires in July, Casey added.

The county is currently under a burn ban that is expected to end on Aug. 6. Last month, Casey said he issued a handful of citations. Violating a burn ban is a Class C misdemeanor, with a fine of up to $500.

Although the Middle Trinity Aquifer — located in southwest Bell County — is in somewhat better shape than the county’s other aquifer, Aaron stressed it is fragile.

“The fact that most wells are experiencing significant drawdown in the last two months is due to the drought conditions and over use of groundwater,” Aaron said, adding well drillers and landowners in Bell and Williamson counties have told Clearwater there wells are under strain.

The Belton-based Clearwater is a single-county entity. Williamson County does not have an underground water conservation district.

Clearwater is not the sole entity asking for people to reduce their water usage.

Temple is under a Stage 2 drought watch, meaning residents have to cut back water usage by 10 percent.

Belton, Salado, Fort Hood, Harker Heights and Killeen are under Stage 1.Bell County Water Control Improvement Districts No. 1 and No. 3 are also under Stage 1. This is a voluntary stage in which entities encourage residents to decrease water usage when possible.

Although Belton — the county seat — is asking for residents to curb their water usage, the Bell County government is considering a proactive approach to conserving the precious resource.

“The question came up about some of our people washing cars — specifically we got a call from the juvenile department,” Commissioner Tim Brown said on Monday. “Whether Belton has issued a drought statement or not, I think we ought to urge our own people to curtail washing vehicles, if it’s not necessary, for a while just to be a good steward of water.”