Yesterday the Austin City Council unanimously approved adoption of Austin Water’s integrated water resources plan aptly named the “Water Forward Plan.” This is very exciting news!

With a focus on identifying local sources of water, the plan will support Austin Water’s integrated water resources management for the next century. Sharlene Leurig, chairwoman of the planning task force, describes the Plan as the “most important water plan that’s been produced in the United States.” Ms. Leurig tells WaterNow that it is important because the Plan’s innovative approach to onsite capture and reuse demonstrates that cities can provide local water supplies without mining water resources from future generations or importing water from beyond their local watershed, even in the face of fast growth and a changing climate.

Currently, Austin is the largest city in Texas that relies on a single water source. In the early stages of the Plan development, the task force reached out to a number of U.S. and international cities, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Melbourne, and Sydney. Through this outreach the task force was inspired to diversify its water portfolio by understanding how onsite capture and reuse could work for Austin given the city’s local weather, climate, and hydrology.

With its Water Forward Plan, Austin Water itself stands out as an inspiring example for other cities across the country, especially with its ambitious 100-year planning horizon considering the growing significance of long-term water plans. In particular, the Water Forward Plan includes at least 5 key elements other urban water providers interested in becoming even more sustainable and resilient can model.

  1. Reliance on local water supplies. As the Water Forward Plan is implemented over the century, community-scale onsite reuse water will come to represent one-third of all additional water supplies that Austin will bring online. This will scale up quickly—by 2040, Austin will produce, capture, and treat 20 times more water from buildings than any other city in the U.S. This will amount to 10 million gallons per day of decentralized non-potable reuse. Focusing on identifying local water supplies in the planning process allowed the City to look at all flows of water within city including air condition condensate, rain water, stormwater, black water (all forms of water that buildings create or intercept but were not previously treated as resources).
  2. Public and stakeholder engagement. One of the Water Forward Plan’s guiding principles was to “engage the public and stakeholders throughout the plan development process” and the plan emphasizes public outreach and community involvement through the implementation phase. This public engagement was key to equitably reflecting the diversity of Austin’s population and Austin Water’s customers. And during this process, the Austin community identified reliance on local water sources as a core value.
  3. Water demand analysis that incorporates onsite reuse. To build out the 100-year plan, Austin Water used several models and multi-criteria decision analyses. These included a “disaggregated demand forecasting model,” which projects demand by sector (e.g., single-family residential, multi-family, and commercial). Using the disaggregated demand forecasting model helped the planners understand how much current and future demand could be met by onsite non-potable sources. Without this model only rough estimates of water demand for non-potable uses were available.
  4. Climate-science based planning. To incorporate planning for climate change impacts on basin hydrology into the Plan, Austin Water contracted with climate scientists to develop forecast data and evaluate, among other things, water availability based on drought conditions that are reflective of future climate change. Because of this climate-based planning Austin came to understand that aquifer storage and reuse was critically important to meeting its goal to rely on local water given anticipated increases in evaporation losses from surface storage, among other vital issues.
  5. Clear performance metrics. The objectives that served as the framework for how the Water Forward Plan was developed were set to be “measurable,” among other criteria. This will allow Austin Water to determine if the Plan’s objectives are being achieved, either through quantitative or qualitative metrics. While the task force will continue to refine these metrics during the implementation phase, they include: estimated savings from implemented demand management options (e.g., advanced metering infrastructure and utility-side water loss control) through 2025 and 2040, and estimated yield from implemented supply options (e.g., community-scale distributed wastewater reuse and aquifer storage and recovery) through 2025 and 2040.

As the Water Forward Plan shows, Austin continues to be a leader in sustainable water management. If you’re interested in learning more about these types of programs, join us on March 27-28, 2019, in Austin for WaterNow’s Tap Into Resilience Summit where WaterNow will feature the Water Forward Plan along with other exemplary sustainable water management programs.


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