The Austin area has been in the grip of an epic drought for more than 7 years. While there has been some significant rainfall in the city during the last year and a half, rain has not fallen in the watersheds of the lakes in any manner to significantly increase lake storage. Austin’s water supply remains secure, but the drought has required dramatically increased conservation and drought response.
Austin has been in Stage 2 Water Use Restrictions almost continuously since 2011. These restrictions limit outdoor watering with spray irrigation to no more than once per week. While levels in the Highland Lakes have risen, the prolonged drought and ongoing water planning efforts have prompted Austin Water Utility to ask: Should once-per-week watering be “the new normal” in Austin?
During the month of January our conversation hosts led dialogue about water sustainability for our region. Participants shared their thoughts on the following questions:
- Do you believe conservation is the best way to ensure water for Austin’s future?
- Should Austin make the once-per-week watering limitation permanent?
- Are there other water restrictions that you feel should be changed?
- How have water restrictions personally affected you, or caused you to change?
- Who is impacted most?
Among conversation participants, opinions on permanent watering restrictions varied from one extreme to the other and everywhere in between. While some were in complete support of water restrictions and others adamantly against, many expressed the belief that the restrictions are good, but should only be used when absolutely needed, or should come with more flexibility. In addition, participants discussed other aspects of water conservation they felt were important.
Below are some of the most prominent themes that emerged:
- Need for more education about water and conservation
- Flexibility in watering days
- Pricing Structures
- Incentives vs. penalties
- Enforcement challenges
- Fixing leaks and other maintenance issues
- Ability to monitor your own water use with meters
- Alternatives to conservation
- Impact of population growth and new development
- Big picture/community minded approach
The feedback for the most part shows that there is an understanding of the need to conserve water while also showing other methods that could be used to assure the sustainability desired.
How is feedback being used
The full feedback report is currently being reviewed by the following Austin Water Utility Staff:
- Greg Meszaros, Director
- Daryl Slusher, Assistant Director for Environmental Affairs and Conservation
- Drema Gross, Water Conservation Division Manager
- Jadell Hines, Environmental Conservation Program Manager
- Geneva Guerrero, Public Information Specialist
Any recommendation for changes to the water use management code or drought contingency plan will be presented to Council for consideration, after briefings to boards and commissions Feedback from the public input process will be summarized and included as backup materials in the Council packet and in any presentations by staff.