Austin: At A Glance
Although the City of Austin’s water conservation score dropped from 90 in 2016 to 80 in 2020, it has maintained its position as one of the top ranking Texas cities practicing water conservation. Austin dramatically decreased per capita water use from 190 in 2006 to 138 in 2013 to 126 in 2018, reaching its goal of 140 GPCD seven years ahead of schedule, partly due to a focused effort to reduce peak water demand in the summer. The City has also set ambitious 5- and 10-year water reduction targets of 119 GPCD and 106 GPCD, respectively. In 2018 Austin unveiled Water Forward, an integrated water resource plan that is likely to play a significant role in guiding the City toward these targets. Despite these achievements, Austin continues to struggle with curbing citywide water loss, with percent losses exceeding 15 percent the past two years.
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 exceeding 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 2019 WCP, Austin has a baseline of 126 GPCD and aims to reduce that baseline to 119 GPCD by 2024 if drought conditions do not occur. Austin does have an alternative goal if the City remains in drought stage restrictions. However, the Austin City Council adopted Water Forward in November 2018, a long-term integrated water resources plan to manage Austin’s water resources over the next 100 years. The Water Forward Plan sets forth a comprehensive list of water conservation and water use efficiency strategies to help the city reach its ambitious 10-year water reduction goal of 106 GPCD.
The City of Austin’s most recent Water Conservation Plan indicates an average water loss of 18.9 GPCD between 2014 and 2019. The city is implementing a multi-year plan to reduce water loss, including a campaign to detect underground water leaks. In 2016, Austin Water launched an Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) pilot study to determine if AMI can help change the behavior of utility customers and how to use AMI to improve Austin Water’s customer services. The study is ongoing.
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.