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San Antonio Water System reduces water usage nearly 50% through conservation measures

San Antonio, TX, USA
WaterNow Alliance
In Collaboration With
City of San Antonio


5.4 Million USD

Project Status

Operational since 1994

At a Glance

A “conservation first” approach that treats conservation as a source of water supply. This includes three primary strategies: (1) education and outreach, (2) financial incentives, and (3) reasonable regulation.

Problem Addressed

The combination of a rapidly growing population and economy, prolonged drought periods, and decreased water source permits required San Antonio to adopt innovative water planning practices. From a regulatory perspective, the local utility, San Antonio Water System (SAWS), was motivated to diversify its portfolio two decades earlier by a least two legal drivers. In 1994, the Texas legislature placed a limit on pumping from the Edwards Aquifer, and, more recently, an extensive Habitat Conservation Plan was implemented to preserve endangered species associated with the local aquifer-fed springs. This also provided certainty for Edwards Aquifer permit holders.

With their water supply in danger, San Antonio community leaders worked to put in place a balanced approach to new water sources and long-term programs that leverage conservation as a source of water throughout the community.

San Antonio Water System used/is using a “conservation first” approach that treats conservation as a source of water supply to address this/these challenge(s).

Solution(s) Used

The resulting programs, led by SAWS, take a “conservation first” approach and treat conservation as a source of water supply. This approach is implemented through a comprehensive commitment to education and collaboration with numerous regional NGOs, a variety of incentive programs, and effective infrastructure investments in order to sustain a community-wide conservation ethic.

Three primary strategies drive SAWS’ conservation program: (1) education and outreach, (2) financial incentives, and (3) reasonable regulation. Within each of these categories, SAWS uses a diverse set of tools to reduce water use among residential, commercial, industrial, and institutional customers. The ever-evolving program options include:

A tiered rate structure to incentivize lower water consumption. Conservation ordinance designed to assist the community in achieving water-saving goals without significantly impacting quality of life. Watering restrictions that can be triggered by aquifer levels. A variety of rebate and incentive-based programs, such as irrigation design rebates, to encourage water conservation. Incentives to reduce the price of water efficiency supplies such as water-saver plants, pervious patio materials, and technology devices. Leak repair education water waste enforcement.

SAWS’ WaterSaver Landscape Coupon Program, which has replaced over 2 million square feet of water-intensive grass with low water-use plants and permeable patios. Irrigation consultations and irrigation efficiency rebates. Peak demand reduction through the GardenStyleSA.com & E-Newsletter, among other efforts to educate the public

Over 25 years, SAWS’ programs have reduced the city’s water usage from 225 gallons per capita per day (GPCD) to 117 GPCD SAWS has seen particular success in growing cost-effective partnerships with a thriving set of local educational organizations and programs focused on conservation. These groups offer personalized consultations and lead a variety of tours and hands-on workshops that educate community members on conservation tactics like rainwater harvesting, wildscaping, and other forms of drought-tolerant landscaping.


  1. Water Resources Benefits: Over 25 years, SAWS’ programs have reduced the city’s water usage from 225 gallons per capita per day (GPCD) to 117 GPCD – a nearly 50 percent reduction.
  2. Environmental Benefits: Reduced reliance on the Edwards Aquifer has helped protect the seven endangered species of the local system, including the Fountain Darter and Texas Blind Salamander.
  3. Economic Benefits: By reducing the number of additional water supplies needed, SAWS can keep rates affordable for all income levels in its service area.
  4. Social Benefits: SAWS works with San Antonio to integrate its conservation first water management strategies with the city's sustainability goals set out in the San Antonio Tomorrow plan.

Something Unique

Treating conservation as a source of water supply.

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