This post is part of a series on Imagine Austin's priority programs, in light of Austin's current CodeNEXT rewrite process. View the entire series here.
This program is focused on conserving water resources and improving watershed health. This includes issues such as public health, recreation, conservation, and water supply. Austin’s Water Utility is municipally owned, which allows Austin Water to work more closely with all departments that have an impact on water supply and watershed health.
In the past four years, we have gone through significant drought, highlighting the need for careful conservation of our water resources. We have also had some significant floods which have damaged many homes, particularly in the Onion Creek area. These events have highlighted the need for watershed protection to ensure creeks and streams are healthy and can handle heavy rains. Because of Austin’s location in “flash flood alley” this concern was built into Imagine Austin with this priority program.
Key updates in the past four years include:
Preservation of Land
1,700 acres of land over the critical Edwards Aquifer recharge zone has been preserved from development. Preservation is a key step in ensuring that our water supply as well as that of San Antonio’s is protected from pollutants.
City council approved buyouts of homeowners living in the floodplain of Onion Creek. This action was taken after devastating floods in which many families lost their homes. Much like Boggy Creek and its floodplain, the homes purchased will be demolished and the creek will undergo restoration and protection as natural wetland to ensure safety for residents as well as proper runoff in storm events.
Watershed Protection Ordinance
This ordinance was adopted by city council and Travis County Commissioners Court in 2013. It’s a huge document and you can read all of it here if you want to. The most important part is this—a large community of stakeholders worked together to balance the needs of the environment with desire for development (all the new residents to Austin have to live somewhere). Stream buffers keep development far enough away from streams and creeks to remain safe from floods as well as to prevent erosion. With the increased setbacks, the city plans to restore creek beds as well as provide trails for people to walk and cycle, serving to connect communities and provide options for healthy transportation.
Reduced Water Consumption
Through water restrictions as well as rebates for rain harvesting and newer homes built with more water-saving features, Austin has decreased water consumption significantly city-wide.
Austin is well on its way to better protection of our water resources now and in the future. Although we have had heavy rain this year and lakes are now full, the programs which have been put into place will help with conservation and protection no matter what, as our area is prone to flood as well as drought. Because of the progress we’ve made we are more resilient in the face of any changes in our climate.