Looking Forward

Ask almost any Austinite about the local weather between 2008 and 2016, and they’ll reminisce about the historic drought, when the lakes were drastically low and heightened water restrictions were in place. Conversely, those of us who experienced last year’s heavy rains and flooding, and the subsequent boil-water notice, will not soon forget that, either.

Though these intense weather events still seem somewhat irregular, climate scientists project that Central Texas will see more frequent, longer periods of drought punctuated with periodic heavy rains. To help our city adapt to the changing climate and ever-growing population, Austin Water has put together a comprehensive 100-year plan, called Water Forward, which incorporates a variety of water-saving methods to keep Austin’s water supply safe.

“Water is a shared resource; it provides so many benefits for our community beyond just potable drinking water,” says Marisa Flores-Gonzalez, project manager for the Water Forward plan. “We developed a plan to increase our community’s resilience, in terms of water supply, for a range of future potential climate conditions.”

One key recommendation in the Water Forward plan is to update all of the city’s water meters over the next five to seven years and replace them with smart meters, which provide more detailed information about a home or business’ water use. “They allow someone to see and really understand how much water they’re using on a daily basis,” Flores-Gonzalez says. “For the restaurant industry in particular, a lot of water gets used in the kitchen … If you’re behind a bar, if you’re a barista in a coffee shop, you’re just constantly running that faucet so you can clean. Maybe there’s a more efficient way to do things; there’s more efficient equipment that could be used.”

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The plan was passed by Austin City Council in November of last year, but it will be updated every five years as the city gathers more data on climate change, population growth and conservation methods. Although the plan’s passage was coincidentally timed soon after the boil-water notice, it was in development for over three years prior.

“Hopefully, the boil water notice was a wake-up call for some people,” Flores-Gonzalez says. “There are a lot of little ways that people could help encourage conservation and efficiency … We have great incentive programs related to changing landscapes out, doing rainwater harvesting and using efficient fixtures.”

Because the plan is a living document, as the steps to implementation progress, the folks at Water Forward will continue to reach out to the community about the proposed changes. “We still have to develop the specific ordinance language, do public outreach and get public input on those various ordinances,” Flores-Gonzalez says. “There are a lot of steps and still a lot of opportunity for public engagement.”

By Darby Kendall

For more information on the Water Forward plan and the city’s water incentive programs, visit austintexas.gov