AUSTIN (KXAN) — A former state climatologist and professor at the UT Jackson School of Geosciences described the drought we’re experiencing right now like this: “If this were a hurricane, we would call it a Category 5.”
While water isn’t the only impact of drought — which can also force high temperatures, extreme fire danger and other concerns — water is certainly on the minds of climate scientists and government officials right now.
Federal officials announced earlier this week that Arizona and Nevada would face another round of cuts to their water supply because of bleak water levels in the Colorado River in those states. It is likely to force states to take unprecedented steps to save water.
In Central Texas, researchers are working with local governments, including the City of Austin, to make sure when it comes to water, there’s a plan.
“Our region will continue to see droughts,” Marisa Flores-Gonzalez, the water resources team supervisor with the City of Austin, said. “In the future droughts will be more severe.”
That’s why the city has a 100-year plan called Water Forward. It accounts for Austin’s rapid growth, and while many other cities and counties in Texas don’t factor in climate change, Austin does.
“The idea for water forward came out of the last drought that we experienced from 2000-2016. We learned a lot from that drought,” Flores-Gonzalez said.
The plan is updated every five years. You can take part in the community engagement process for 2024’s revamp here.
Buried in Austin’s proposed budget, we can see that Austin Water has been pumping out less water to Austin residents. In 2010, Austin City Council directed Austin Water to cut water usage. Roughly a decade later, Austin Water’s total water pumpage fell to the lowest level in two decades.
The city is also looking at creative ways to save water. Earlier this year, Austin Water unveiled a pilot blackwater system at one of its buildings. It filters and reuses water for things like watering grass, water features at the building and filling toilets.
“We are anticipating that this building will be able to offset 75% of its potable demand by using these non-potable supplies,” Flores-Gonzalez said.
Large new developments would be required to do something similar starting in December of next year in the City of Austin.