As drought stretches on, City of Alpine enacts contingency measures

ALPINE — Last week, the City of Alpine issued instructions to its utilities customers to adopt its drought contingency plan. “We appreciate everyone’s help in this matter and will be monitoring the situation continuously throughout the emergency. We’re all in this together,” Keith Segar, Alpine’s director of utilities, wrote in a press release. 

Customers have been asked to water their lawns on alternating days, determined by street addresses — even-numbered street addresses should water on even-numbered days, and vice versa. The city also plans to reduce watering of its public parks and facilities grounds, and to reduce water usage by commercial and industrial users. The hope is that these measures will help preserve drinking water for customers, even if the drought gets worse. 

For now, the measures are all voluntary, and intended to avoid depleting the city’s supply in the Sunny Glen and Muzquiz well fields. Segar explained that the city’s drought contingency plans are triggered when demand reaches 90% of the city’s supply. 

“​​So far the voluntary measures appear to be working,” Segar wrote to The Big Bend Sentinel. “Let’s not forget to pray for rain as well! Recharge of the aquifers is vital to coming out of these drought conditions.” 

Devin Chehak of the National Weather Service in Midland — where the region’s weather data is collected — chimed in to explain what city leaders mean by drought conditions. “Droughts are consistent, they’re not something one rainfall event can end,” he said. “We need things to become closer to normal or wetter than normal for an extended period of time in order to really break the drought.” 

As an early monsoon season has brought afternoon storms to the Big Bend, many locals have questioned how the region can still be experiencing drought when it’s been regularly raining. The Weather Service defines “normal” by averaging climate patterns over a 30-year period. As of last week, Alpine had received 1.4 inches of rain for the year — about 3 inches below normal. 

Because it’s been so dry, even the monsoon alone may not be able to break the drought — abnormally dry ground changes the way water behaves. “A lot of that rain is just going to end up as runoff and evaporating into the atmosphere versus actually sinking into the soils or recharging the river,” Chehak explained.

Despite the Weather Service’s hesitance to provide a positive forecast for the region, Mayor Catherine Eaves was pleased with how her constituents have handled the call to action. “All of our wells are up to par, and there’s water in them,” she said. “I don’t know if we will continue leaving the voluntary measures in place, but I would highly recommend it, just to make sure we conserve — we are in the desert, of course, and it is a drought.” 

If the drought persists and the city needs to enact mandatory measures, Alpine City Council will call a public meeting to set ordinances with public input. Eaves explained that because the city hasn’t had to address a drought like this in many years, the city will need to revisit — or create — policies that many city leaders haven’t encountered before. 

So far, though, Alpine residents have been more than happy to comply with the contingency plan. “It’s surprising — a lot of people have messaged me, and we should have done this a long time ago,” Eaves said. “I haven’t had anybody contact me with backlash or in a negative way.”