Austin officials want 100-year water plan to move forward faster

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Austin has approved a 100-year plan for the city’s water use and drought resiliency, one which officials say is unlike any plan in the country; however, City Council members said Thursday the plan needs to be accelerated where feasible.

The drafting of the Water Forward Plan began at the tail end of the historic 2008-16 drought that depleted Austin’s water source down to record lows. Citing climate change predictions, environmental experts warned that drier, hotter weather awaited the region in the future and Austin needed to be prepared.

The plan approved Thursday looks to initiate ordinances related to water conservation through mandates on recycled water systems that treat wastewater for non-drinking use and systems that collect rain and storm water runoff for reuse. The plan will also emphasize water supply enhancement through the creation of innovative reservoir and well systems.

Officials from Austin Water, the city’s public water utility, called it, “the most important water plan that’s been produced in the United States.” The plan is unique, according to officials, because it makes the Austin the only city in the country with a plan to ensure its accessibility to water far into the future without taking water from another community.

However, many of these initiatives, such as ordinances mandating businesses employ recycled water systems and incentives for property landscapes that use less irrigation, are years away. On Thursday, several council members said, as means to fortify the city against the next drought, the initiatives need to move faster.

The implementation timeline for the landscape incentives and recycled water mandates are as far out as 13 years. District 5 Council Member Ann Kitchen said that is too long, and called for staff to condense the timeline for their and other alternative water ordinances.

Mayor Steve Adler, in a motion that accompanied the plan’s approval, echoed Kitchen’s call, saying each ordinance and code change proposed by the Water Forward Plan should be expedited to “increase the city’s resilience to the next drought.”

Adler and District 10 Council Member Alison Alter each called for city staff to immediately start considering the goals of the plan as new development proposals come through the door.

The plan’s approval comes just over a month after historic flooding upstream nearly shutdown Austin’s water treatment plants, sparking an unprecedented citywide water boil notice.

Austin Water Director Greg Meszaros said a robust public input process would now begin on the various ordinances, incentives and projects proposed by the plan.

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Christopher Neely
Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following two years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun and USA Today. He is a graduate of the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism.
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