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As Austin's drought worsens, eyes turn to the city's 100-year water plan

Because of the Water Forward plan, new developments larger than 250,000 square feet will have to install onsite water reuse systems starting December 2023.

AUSTIN, Texas — Austin Water's Water Forward plan, a 100-year plan to make sure the city has water as it grows, has steps to protect the city if the current drought worsens. 

On Monday, Austin entered Stage One of its drought contingency plan. The only thing that's changing, for now, is that automatic irrigation is limited to once a week, between 7 p.m. to 8 a.m.

"It is a community effort," said Austin Water's Water Resources and Supply team supervisor Marisa Flores Gonzalez, who helps lead the Water Forward plan.

She said the department doesn't plan on moving beyond Stage One of the drought plan this summer, but if Austin got to Stage Three or a historic drought, the City would have options to hold us over, like using indirect potable water or aquifer water stored underground.

"The plan and approach would be that we would take water from our Colorado River supplies during wet times, treat that to potable drinking water standards," said Gonzalez. "We put that underground so that it's safe from evaporation and then would be able to pull that water out to use in a drought situation." 

To get to the point where we need to use aquifer storage and recovery, she said the combined storage of the Highland Lakes would have to drop to 600,000 acre-feet, which is a level we've never seen. 

Storage levels are currently a little below 1.4 million acre-feet, or about 70% full.

The Water Forward plan also addresses rapid growth. Starting on Dec. 1, 2023, developments larger than 250,000 square feet will have to install onsite water reuse systems.

RELATED: Austin enters Stage One drought restrictions

"This could be anything from rainwater harvesting, greywater harvesting, greens and blackwater reuse," said Gonzalez. 

Gonzalez said when it comes to water activities on local lakes, we won't miss out this summer, but it's important to conserve when we can so that doesn't change in summers to come. 

If you want a say in shaping Austin's water future, a community meeting will be on June 14 at 6 p.m. to discuss Water Forward and community concerns. Register here

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