What Did Last Week’s Water Crisis Teach Us?

What Did Last Week’s Water Crisis Teach Us?


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Seven days. That’s how long Austinites went without clean water.


For the first time ever, we couldn’t be sure that what was coming out of our faucets was safe to drink. For the first time ever, we got a little taste of what other less fortunate communities around the world have to deal with on a daily basis. And for many of us, for the first time ever, we really had to think about where our water comes from.


So what did we learn?


That was the question tackled by our radio partner Shades of Green during last week’s episode. You can listen to the full podcast above (or look it up on iTunes or Stitcher).


Don’t have time to listen to the whole thing? Here’s the gist…


First up on the show we had David Foster, director of Clean Water Action Texas.


“This is unprecedented,” David said on the show. “It’s something that hasn’t happened before in our history, but I think we need to understand it’s very likely to happen again and the reason is climate change.”


That’s why he says that the water crisis should teach Austin two important lessons:


1. We need a more distributed water supply system.


Right now, Austin’s water supply comes entirely from the Colorado River (by way of the Highland Lakes) and then is cleaned by a few very large water treatment plants. David is advocating for a more distributed water system, which could include graywater, AC condensate, and reclaimed water. In other words, allow for more water to be collected directly at people’s homes and businesses, as well as to use non-potable water for things like irrigation and washing your clothes.


Another option is something called aquifer storage and recovery. With this process, water would be taken from the Colorado River when it’s flowing. It would then be treated and stored underground. This would prevent so much water from being lost to evaporation, which is what happens now at the Highland Lakes.


2. We need to improve conservation


So what to make of all this information? On the show, David said, “…Pay attention to Water Forward…I don’t think most people have a clue that this is happening… this is a really big deal. This is our water future and this crisis should underline how important it is that we kind of think outside of the box at little bit to make sure we’re meeting our needs.”


Water Forward is a plan currently being developed by Austin Water to ensure that we have a safe and secure water supply for the next 100 years. According to David, City Council will likely take a vote on Water Forward in mid-November, which means that now is a great time to get involved. You can read a draft version of the plan here.


You can also check in on upcoming Water Forward public outreach events here. We’ll let you know when the vote before City Council is actually put on the schedule.


Also on the show last week we heard from Ruthie Redmond, water resources program manager with the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club and the Texas Living Waters Project. Ruthie spoke about “Best Bets For Texas Water,” a new guidebook recently published by the Texas Living Waters Project. The guidebook analyzes nine different water supply and management strategies for the future of Texas water and then ranks them according to cost, long-term viability, and environmental impact.


In the end, three strategies rose to the top. They are:

  • Water Conservation – As the guidebook says, “the cheapest water supply is the water you already have.” It recommends everything from installing water efficient technologies (washing machines, dishwashers, etc) to structuring rates so that low water users pay less for each gallon of water.
  • One Water – One Water is a collaborative water planning and operational approach that uses diverse and connected strategies to manage limited water resources. The idea is that within a city, instead of keeping the water department siloed, proper water management strategies would be integrated into every city department. For example, increasing green space to both provide parkland and to help reduce stormwater runoff.
  • Nature-Based Solutions – these can include things likes permeable pavement, rain gardens, and rain barrels

PS – Apologies for the slight hissing sound on the podcast. The radio station was experiencing some technical issues on the day this podcast was recorded. 

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