City of Austin.
Austin has moved to the top ranks of Texas cities practicing water conservation in recent years. Austin dramatically decreased per capita water use from 2009 to 2014 through several initiatives, including a focused effort to reduce peak water demand in the summer. Austin has unfinished business such as curbing water loss, however, and Austin Water (the City utility) in its 2014 WCP set a target for per capita water use in “wet years” higher than what it already has demonstrated is achievable. Austin just moved to “head of the class” in limits on outdoor watering – adopting a permanent no-more-than-once-a-week outdoor watering restriction.
The City of Austin, located in Central Texas and the Region K water planning area, is known for its conservation-minded, yet rapidly growing population, now approaching one million. The City draws its water from the Highland Lakes on the Colorado River. Austin has its own water rights on the Colorado but also contracts with the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) for water. Austin Water operates three water treatment plants to process this water for distribution. Among Austin’s high volume water customers are “high-tech” companies (Samsung being the highest water user) and The University of Texas at Austin.
In its 2009 WCP Austin set a goal for 2014 of reducing total per capita water use from 170 GPCD to 156, but the City beat that goal, achieving 128 GPCD using an array of conservation strategies and benefitting from implementing no-more-than-once-a-week outdoor watering as part of its drought contingency plan during that period. In its 2014 WCP, however, Austin has retreated somewhat, setting a baseline of 162 GPCD in its latest WCP and a target of “reducing” from that baseline to 141 GPCD by 2019 if drought conditions do not occur. Austin does have an alternative goal of 124 GPCD by 2019 if the City remains in drought stage restrictions. However, the Austin City Council in early May 2016 adopted a permanent no-more-than-once-a-week outdoor watering restriction for households using automatic sprinkler systems (hose-end watering could be done on a second day). That may allow Austin to achieve the 124 GPCD goal.
The City of Austin’s most recent water audit indicates a water loss of over 13%. The city is implementing a multi-year plan to reduce water loss, including a campaign to detect underground water leaks. Austin is also applying for state financial assistance for installation of an advanced water metering system.
Austin Water provides easily-accessed conservation information to its residents through both website and social media presence, and the utility promotes conservation through extensive advertising using multiple media. Additionally, Austin Water has a five-tiered rate structure that provides residents an incentive to conserve both money and water through judicious water use.
Over the years the City of Austin has benefitted from active citizen participation and input for its water conservation program, including citizen task forces that have developed detailed proposals for curbing water use. This effort has produced progressive conservation initiatives adopted by the City and its water utility, and it has brought greater citizen support for carrying out these initiatives.