In July, Nueces County Water Control and Improvement District No. 4 pumped 104.12 million gallons of water to its customers, nearly all of whom are located inside the Port Aransas city limits, according to records provided by the agency.
No other single month saw so much water use in the past 10 years, records show. The month with the next highest use was July last year, with 86.96 million gallons flowing.
Irrigation of parched ground is most likely the main reason for the high consumption, said Mark Young, district manager of the water control and improvement district.
Despite the geyser of water use, the drought continues to take a toll on everything from golf course grounds to wildlife.
Newport Dunes Golf Club uses effluent and an underground water reclamation system to conserve its water use, but General Manager Kevin Michael said it hasn’t been enough.
“When you see the golf course, it’s not green and lush like it was prior (to the drought),” Michael said. “We have numerous areas of the course that are taking a lot of stress.”
The golf course gets some of its water from the water district and also pumps out of its ponds as a supplementary supply.
The ponds “are basically tapped out, so we’re teeter-tottering on some tough times,” Michael said.
Without rains, salt has built up in the soil, making plants more susceptible to disease.
“We’re just trying to water and fertilize and keep our fingers crossed,” Michael said.
Port Aransas has had only 3.67 inches of rain so far this year, according to Tony Amos, an official weather observer for the National Weather Service.
In the past year, Port Aransas has received 14.57 inches of rain, Amos said. The town’s average annual rainfall is 34.67 inches, so that means Port Aransas is more than 20 inches behind right now.
But Amos said Port Aransas rainfall is erratic by nature. In 1989, 19.55 inches fell, making it the driest year since official records began in 1985, he said. The wettest year was 2004, with 55.56 inches of rain.
At LoveLee Works, a Port Aransasbased lawn and garden service, the drought has cut the lawn mowing part of business in half, according to Stan Lee, co-owner of the business. One the other hand, he said, gardening is picking up, because the drought has prompted the drought-tolerant weed population to jump. But that increase, Lee said, hasn’t been enough to offset the loss of lawn mowing business.
Lee said 60 percent of his customers have sprinkler systems. Because of the drought, Lee has had to reset the systems to run earlier in the morning so evaporation won’t be so bad. And, while the systems normally would run about 20 minutes, he has reset them to run about twice that long to get the needed moisture into the ground.
Condominiums are among the largest water consumers in Port Aransas. Condominium Consulting Management Services runs 10 properties, including eight condos in Port Aransas.
“For some properties, we have water wells, and we have been able to continue to tap that water,” said Jim Triplett, managing director at CCMS. “But, in other properties where we don’t have that luxury, there is an increased cost of operation because of the watering. We want our amenities to be as nice as they always are, so it’s extra pressure on us this summer, without rain.”
CCMS has taken some precautionary measures, such as having lawn mower blades raised and making sure sprinklers are watering efficiently, Triplett said.
“We have monitored the watering throughout our different stations on our properties to make sure we maximize coverage, and we actually have reduced it in some areas where we thought we could,” Triplett said. “We have monitored it probably more closely than we normally would.”
At the Marine Science Institute, officials have seen that it’s taking more water to replenish the institute’s central air conditioning system’s cooling towers, due to the heat, according to Steve Lanoux, assistant director of operations at the institute. At the same time, the institute is searching for ways to reduce its water use, looking for leaks around the compound and other ways of conserving, he said.
“It’s driven by our green initiatives, in addition to recognition that we’ve got to do something to preserve our resources,” Lanoux said.
Mark Fisher, science director at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Marine Lab in Rockport, said the drought is influencing movement of fish populations.
More sharks, Spanish mackerel and jack fish are being seen in bays right now because the bays are so salty, as a result of the lack of rainfall, Fisher said. When there’s more rain, those kinds of fish avoid bays, because those bodies of water are not salty enough for their tastes.
Fisher said he didn’t think the drought is doing harm to sport fishing. But Joan Holt said redfish reproduction could be hurt if rainfall doesn’t come soon. Holt is director of fisheries and mariculture at the UTMSI Fisheries and Mariculture Lab in Port Aransas.
Redfish will be spawning in the bays in September, and young redfish will not have such high survival rates if salinity levels in the bays are high, Holt said.
The Fisheries and Mariculture Lab takes in sea water from the Corpus Christi Ship Channel to fill the lab’s tanks where snook, ling and redfish breed. Lab workers, Holt said, have been adding more fresh water to tanks these days to offset how salty the water is.
Birds also possibly are being affected by drought, said Holt, who has some expertise on bird populations in Port Aransas. The Joan and Scott Holt Paradise Pond, a favorite spot for birders, is named after Holt and her husband.
Lack of rainfall means less fruit and fewer insects and seeds for birds to eat, Holt said. But thirst probably isn’t a problem for birds, she said. While some wetlands have dried up, birds still can go to other sources of fresh water, including the treated wastewater outfall at the Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center, Holt said.
“If you go to the birding center, my gosh, you’ll see that everything in the world is coming there to drink,” she said.