City Council to vote on new water plan

Raga Justin

It has been less than a month since a boil water notice sparked concern over Austin’s water sustainability, but a plan working on diversifying Austin’s water sources has been in the works for years now and is scheduled to be voted on by the Austin City Council this Thursday.

Austin currently uses three water treatment plants that source its water from the Colorado River. Jennifer Walker is the vice chair of a task force created by the Austin City Council in 2014 to look at other sources for water supply, right in the middle of a long drought the city was trying to weather. 

The task force created Water Forward, a plan that proposes several ways to maximize water supply. One strategy is the construction of a 90,000 square foot aquifer for water storage and recovery, Walker said.

Water Forward also includes recommendations for new buildings to use reclaimed water and to make city landscapes, including personal yards and gardens, more water efficient by utilizing alternative water sources such as rain runoff and wastewater.  

It also plans to improve water meter efficiency to prevent leaks from draining city resources. 

“The purpose of this plan is really to prepare for our water future,” Walker said. “We are trying to make sure we’re all playing a part in meeting the water needs of the city. Austin residents, whether they live in a house or an apartment complex or condo, they will all play a role in this, whether it is through reducing their water use or whether they are even aware of it.”

Walker said if approved, the plan will begin implementation by early next year. 

City Council member Kathie Tovo was instrumental in creating the task force four years ago. She said while Austin’s water supply has been a source of much concern for years, the boil water notice highlighted the importance of a new water plan reliant on a diverse range of sources instead of the previous single-source system. 

”It was an extremely unfortunate event, but it does help us better understand the need for the plan we’re about to consider,” Tovo said. 

Tovo said she expects “vigorous” community discussion once action on individual proposals begins. She said she welcomes input, especially from students. 

“(Water) is a scarce resource, and we all absolutely depend on it,” Tovo said. “We want to be sure that we’re taking seriously the science of climate change and responding in a way that makes it possible for future generations to even live in the city.”

Leland Ellis, international relatins and global studies sophomore, traveled to South Africa this summer in the midst of a widespread drought. Developing local water policy to prevent similar occurrences is a good precaution against the worst-case scenario, Ellis said. 

“I saw it firsthand,” Ellis said. “I think cities everywhere should take precautions so they do not see anything similar. It’s going to be a global issue in the years to come if not already, so Austin should get that headstart.”