AUSTIN (KXAN) – Two new “superheroes” are helping the City of Austin conserve water at the city’s new Permitting and Development Center.

“Oscar and Clara are our two sustainable water superheroes. They are the folks that are helping us make this building one of the most resilient and sustainable water facilities in the city of Austin,” said Kevin Critendon, Assistant Director of Environmental Planning and Development Services at Austin Water.

“Because of these innovations, the building will use 75% less drinking water compared to other buildings of similar size,” said city councilmember Leslie Poole. She said that the system will also reduce runoff, erosion and flooding near the building.

The city revealed the two systems last week in a press conference at the new facility. We wanted to take a closer look at what they do and why they could be important for development in Austin.

What are OSCAR and CLARA?

According to Austin Water, these two systems (which they call superheroes) can save “over one million gallons of drinking water each year.” The two systems are part of a pilot program that Austin Water hopes will be implemented at future developments around the city.

OSCAR stands for the On-Site Collection and Resuse System. Critendon said that it “takes rainwater from the sky and actually allows it to capture it so that we can use that rainwater for irrigation here on site.”

The side of the new Permitting and Development center. Trees are abundant.
Austin’s new Permitting and Development Center uses two advanced water systems, OSCAR and CLARA, to help conserve water. (Courtesy: KXAN/JUAN SALINAS)

OSCAR collects rainwater and condensation created by the building’s air-conditioning units. That water is then filtered by passing through 350-micron filters capable of handling flows up to 1,500 gallons per minute and then stored in 40,000-gallon tanks. The filters are self-cleaning, according to Austin Water. That water can then be used for landscaping at the facility.

CLARA stands for Closed-loop Advanced Reclaimed Assembly. This system is a black water treatment system. “We actually can take sanitary wastewater, treat that and then reintroduce that into the building and use it for toilet flushing,” Critendon said.

The system is capable of collecting 5,000 gallons of wastewater from the building’s sinks, drinking fountains and toilets. The water is then filtered by passing through several tanks. Each one, including a hydroponics tank filled with plants, treats the water in different ways.

That water is then filtered back around and reused by the same toilets.

“The system creates an ongoing recycling of wastewater so we get the most bang fit from this most finite and precious resource,” councilmember Poole said.

Encouraging new water systems in new development

One building that was recently constructed uses a similar water system: the public library on Cesar Chavez. “That building was designed to capture rainwater, and also backup with centralized reclaimed water for toilet flushing,” Critendon said.

Both the library and the new Permitting and Development Center used clever architecture to hide the water systems. “The architect for this facility has been able to incorporate that into the building design. So it’s a very pleasant and aesthetically pleasing feature here.”

Poole and Critendon both voiced hope that similar systems will be used in new construction around Austin.

“I want everybody in our city who is building or renovating commercial structures in Austin, look at what Austin water is doing and follow their lead. Everyone’s participation is crucial to securing our water future,” councilmember Poole said.

The city has launched a program for people wishing to test out OSCAR and CLARA at their homes or businesses. You could sign up for the program on Austin Water’s website.