Water restrictions in effect in Austin for first time in two years

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Water restrictions are in effect starting Monday in Austin, the first time in two years Austin Water has cut back the number of hours residents can water their lawns.

Lake Travis and Lake Buchanan have dipped below a combined 1.4 million feet of water, triggering the restrictions as dry weather persists.

The stage one restrictions apply only to those with automatic watering systems. The cutoff for watering is now 8 a.m. instead of 10 a.m. Those who water with hose sprinklers won’t see any changes. 

“We had, I think it’s the 8th driest year of inflows into the lakes last year,” Austin Water assistant director Daryl Slusher told KXAN, “and every month so far this year has been lower than last year.”

Watering is still only allowed one day per week for automatic systems and two days per week for hose-end sprinkler systems. Two years ago Austin Water made those schedules permanent. The new restrictions will save some water, but the utility said a major goal is making people aware that they need to conserve more in general.

Over the last decade, Austinites have reduced their water usage considerably, Slusher said. The city is collectively using less water now than it was when there were 300,000 fewer people living here.

Part of the reason is the focus on native landscaping that uses little grass and more Texas plants that are used to surviving with little water. Green lawns are becoming less common, replaced by gravel and mulch.

“I would say compared to ten years ago, this is definitely the new standard,” Rodney Stoutenger, owner of Native Edge Landscape, said.

At a home in north Austin last week, his team was transforming the yard from grass to native plants, plus a driveway and walkway that let water pass through instead of impervious concrete. One of the big advantages to a native landscape, Stoutenger said, is homeowners can use drip irrigation systems instead of the sprayers, which saves even more water.

“We see a lot less water immediately starting to evaporate and run off,” he said.

In her yard in the city’s Zilker neighborhood, LaDonna Peebles said the only watering she does is for the limited amount of grass and for the flowers that she wants to bloom.

Mostly, her yard is comprised of greenery that doesn’t need much water to thrive. She landscaped it herself over the course of 30 years living there, working with nature instead of against it.

“There were a lot of plants that were already here,” she said, pointing out the grapevine snaking through her garden. Instead of tearing up those plants, she left them, and her water bills reflect that choice. “I’ve just learned over the years how to save.”

Not everyone is as tolerant of the full-time water conservation measures. From May to August this year, Austin Water has issued 908 warnings from violations staff members witnessed, four times as many as the same period last year. The utility also issued 23 fines this year, compared to six last year. 

More restrictions aren’t likely for months, Slusher said. Even under the worst-case projections from the Lower Colorado River Authority, the Highland Lakes won’t dip below the next threshold until spring.

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