Northwest Austin residents who have among highest water use in city could feel impact of new water management plan

Residents in parts of Northwest Austin have the highest water usage in the city.

Residents in parts of Northwest Austin have the highest water usage in the city.

For single-family homeowners in Northwest Austin City Council districts 6 and 10—who have the highest water usage in the city, according to Austin Water—a 100-year water-management plan could mean a future of ordinances and incentives directly affecting their front lawns and water bills.

Called the Integrated Water Resource Plan, or Water Forward, the plan aims to provide both mid- and long-term plans for the city’s water supply and demand management options. The city is still gathering public input on the plan, which will be completed in 2018 and updated every five years.

In August, the Austin Integrated Water Resource Planning Community Task Force presented future water supply and demand options and the estimated costs of each option as well as how much water the option could produce or conserve.

Why have a 100-year plan?


After the drought that plagued Central Texas from 2007-15, the task force recommended the city of Austin begin to plan ahead for future droughts and the effects of climate change.

Marisa Flores Gonzalez, the Water Forward project manager, said the Austin community as a whole should be concerned about water right now.

“We’re out of that drought now, but that just means this is a good time to plan,” Gonzalez said.

Studies conducted by the task force back up Gonzalez’s belief that Austin should begin planning for future water shortages.

In February, Water Forward estimated the city’s water needs in 2020, 2040, 2070 and 2115. Overall with baseline demands, they found the city’s needs during prolonged droughts will increase overtime and by 2115 will exceed the city’s current contract for water with LCRA.

Additionally, the task force hired climate scientist Katherine Hayhoe to conduct a climate change analysis. She found Austin’s data consistent with larger-scale trends observed throughout the U.S. and the world.

Residents can expect to see increases in annual and seasonal average temperatures, more frequent high-temperature extremes, little change in average precipitation, more frequent extreme precipitation and more summer drought conditions due to hotter weather, Hayhoe’s findings said.

Plan’s effect on residents


Aside from caring about the future of Austin’s water supply, Gonzalez said residents should be aware of how the plan will impact their wallets. Because areas in Northwest Austin use more water than other parts of the city, it may be affected more by community costs in the plan.

Sharlene Leurig, chairwoman of the Water Forward Task Force and a representative from City Council District 4, hypothesized single-family homes in Northwest Austin City Council districts used more water than other areas of the city because the homes have larger yards and areas of grass.

Both Leurig and Gonzalez emphasized Austin Water wants to work with Northwest Austin residents to explore alternative methods of water use, such as collecting and purifying rainwater for reuse.

“Maybe the residents who currently have landscapes that are not as water-efficient would be interested in using some of our incentive programs to transform their landscapes and save water,” Gonzalez said.

In August, the task force suggested ordinances requiring more water-efficient landscaping and alternative water-use methods would only affect new housing developments.

At the same time the city would roll out incentives similar to those ordinances for pre-existing homes. These incentives could possibly include monetary benefits, but Gonzalez said Austin Water will not know the details until early 2018.

As the task force considers what part of the plan will be incentive-based or ordinance-based, residents have the chance now to voice their priorities.


Residents’ concerns


Austin Water hosted several public information meetings in July in each City Council district to collect public feedback on the plan. Gonzalez said citywide, Austin Water found residents care most about ensuring the city has safe, reliable drinking water.

Residents also care about conservation—of both water and their money.

District 10 members who attended a July 31 outreach meeting said they were concerned about the possibility of overbuilding and wasting taxpayer money on water options, educating their neighbors about water conservation and finding other water suppliers aside from the Lower Colorado River Authority.

Kathi Herrin, a resident from ZIP code 78727 in Northwest Austin near Parmer Lane, said her biggest concern was future droughts and how to sustain Austin’s growing population. After attending the Water Forward series, she encouraged her multifamily complex to investigate rainwater-collection
opportunities.

“I want to be proactive,” she said.

Other attendants at the District 10 outreach meeting expressed concern that homes with bigger lawns in their neighborhoods are unaware it is illegal to water a lawn more than twice a week.

Residents suggested building a program that enforces one-on-one educational conversations about water restrictions and conservation.

Water Forward’s next steps


After its outreach series in July the task force began to characterize the water supply and demand options by estimating each option’s water yield estimation, cost estimation, energy usage and environmental impacts.

Now that options have been characterized, Austin Water plans to develop different combinations of the options, called portfolios, to decide which ones to include in its final plan recommendation.

These portfolios will be evaluated by a hydrologist and ranked based on analysis, and then the task force will present its 100-year plan recommendation to City Council in June 2018.

Leurig said residents have until February to share their water priorities and concerns with the task force.

By the end of February the task force will have already created and begun to analyze portfolios, so it will be too late for citizen feedback regarding supply and demand options.

The last thing the task force wants, however, is to see residents unhappy with the plan, Leurig said.

“This is the most important time to get your voices heard,” she said.

Residents can submit feedback about the plan through Austin Water’s survey, www.surveymonkey.com/r/waterforward.
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