About Us

Make a Donation
Fully-Local • Non-Partisan • Public-Service Journalism

Task force targets over-watering

Monday, November 27, 2006 by

Keeping your lawn green during Austin’s blistering hot summers may be a bit more complicated – and lot more expensive – if steps recommended the city’s Water Conservation Task Force are eventually put into effect.

The task force has given preliminary approval to a number of measures involving both residential and commercial irrigations systems mandating a variety of measures designed to conserve water.

City Water Conservation Officer Tony Gregg told task force members that improper installation of irrigation systems is one of the biggest water wasters in the city.

“The current ordinance does not restrict properties from over-watering,” he said. “Neither does it restrict watering to between 7pm and 10am, when there is the least evaporation to heat and wind.”

There are currently no regulations for residential irrigation systems in Austin, nor does the city require permits and inspections when such systems are installed, he said.

Appointed in September, the Water Conservation Task Force seeks to implement aggressive water conservation measures by setting goals to reduce peak day usage by one percent per year for 10 years. The task force has already tentatively approved indoor measures for conservation, and on Nov. 17, approved recommendations for outdoor measures.

In December, the Task Force will consider and adopt measures pertaining to city and utility strategies, before approving a final set of recommendations in January to go to the City Council.

Recommendations for outdoor watering regulations include:

• Requiring a watering schedule of no more than twice a week for residential customers.

• Prohibiting irrigation between 10am and 7pm between May 1 and Sept. 30 except for newly planted vegetation.

• Requiring automatic rain shut-off systems on all automatic sprinkler systems.

• Recommending all hose-end sprinklers use a hose timer, and

• Allowing hand-held hose watering anytime.

Those regulations would save the city some 6.2 million gallons per day (MGD) at a cost of just over $200,000 and the hiring of three code enforcement employees. Gregg said that while the state licenses irrigators, there is very little oversight and enforcement by either the city or the state in the design and installation of systems.

“Austin Water Utility irrigation staff has observed water loss of 20 to 50 percent from inefficient system design.” said Gregg. “Irrigation system standards and permits would raise the quality of the whole industry.”

Other recommendations by the task force include requiring new residential irrigation systems to obtain a permit and submit a design plan based on standards for city approval before installation. The system must be programmable, and it is recommended – but not required — that the controllers be weather-based (controlled over the internet based on current conditions.)

Regulations would also require installers to give the homeowner an irrigation design plan and a water budget for their lawn.

The task force also adopted recommendations that would strengthen current commercial irrigation standards, require new homes with landscaping to have at least six inches of topsoil, and require commercial and large residential irrigation systems to undergo an audit every three years to ensure proper operation.

Council Member Lee Leffingwell, chair of the task force, stressed that the regulations they have recommended are subject to change prior to the group’s final report to the entire City Council in January.

Planning Commission braces for Town Lake cases

The Planning Commission’s Codes and Ordinances subcommittee took a look at the Town Lake Waterfront Overlay ordinance at a meeting last week, but their intention was to preview upcoming cases and not to review of the ordinance itself.

Cases that have been winding through other commissions – including the teardown and redevelopment of an apartment complex site on Riverside Drive – will soon be heard at Planning Commission. Last week, Greg Guernsey and Ricardo Soliz of the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department outlined some of the history and specifics of the overlay ordinance and its zoning cases.

Despite the presentation, the subcommittee took no action. The presentation was intended to provide an update and background and not drive any recommendations. Neighborhood members, including those from Bouldin and Zilker, expressed concerns that development needs to be consistent with existing neighborhood plans.

The City Council commissioned ROMA to review the South Shore sub-district of the waterfront overlay six years ago. None of those recommendations were ever implemented. At the time, the issue was the Gotham condominium project at the foot of the Congress Avenue Bridge. Those recommendations included a size limit on the South Shore of 50,000 square feet and a setback that would remain consistent from property to property.

“There is a whole lot of interest out there in having a whole new set of standards to serve the purposes of the Town Lake Corridor Study and Waterfront Overlay,” said subcommittee chair Chris Riley after the meeting. “The concerns addressed in the ROMA study of the existing regulations six years ago were that the regs were not serving the underlying goals of the waterfront overlay very well.”

Consistency of setbacks – and height limitations – is something that Council will have to decide, subcommittee members said. When asked by community members last week whether the variances on height on some of the new projects could be justified as a “hardship,” they were told that such justification only applied to Board of Adjustment cases.

Commissioner Saundra Kirk, who requested a presentation on the ordinance, expressed her appreciation to the staff and neighborhood members who attended. She said that it was important that all stakeholders should be involved to “help us think through this” and to focus on solutions to the issues that will soon come before Council.

©2006 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Slow day in the editorial office . . . The Austin American-Statesman's editorial board just can't get over the fact that the City Council gave itself a pay raise to make up for six years without a cost of living adjustment. The Statesman editorial of November 19 stated that those voting for the raise should have declined to accept it until after the next election. In Fact Daily pointed out on November 17 that a raise had been built into the city's budget in September when an increase was approved for each Council office budgets. But the editorial writers didn't manage to note that detail until the day after Thanksgiving, November 24 . . . Paws off, Austin, says DMN . . . The venerable Dallas Morning News told Austin (meaning the State Legislature, not the citizens or government of our fair city) to step back from a proposal to take money cities may earn via cameras snapping photos of those who run red lights. The state already takes a heft chunk from the fines generated by traffic tickets given out by police officers and cities should be able to keep the money generated by the cameras, says the News. . . . Trail of Lights Festival . . . The Austin Parks and Recreation Department plans a news conference today to discuss the 22nd Annual Trail of Lights Festival. The conference is set at 10am at the Zilker Park Clubhouse, 200 Zilker Clubhouse Rd. Parks and Recreation Department Director Warren Struss will provide a brief history of the event as well as the schedule for the 2006 Trail of Lights Festival. This year, more than 350,000 visitors are expected to attend the event. The Trail of Lights Festival, considered one of the best light festivals in the nation, begins on Dec, 10 with the opening parade. . . . Meetings . . . The Historic Landmark Commission meets at 7pm tonight in Council Chambers at City Hall. . . . The Design Commission meets at 5:45pm in the Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall …. New Elections Commissioner . . . The Williamson County Elections Commission has named John Willingham as the interim elections administrator. Willingham currently is the director of human resources for the county and until August of 2005 served also as the elections administrator for the county. The Elections Commission is comprised of County Judge John Doerfler, County Clerk Nancy Rister, Tax Assessor/Collector Deborah Hunt, Republican Party Chair Bill Fairbrother and Democratic Party Chair Richard Torres. Fairbrother was not available to attend the meeting. A national search will be conducted for the elections administrator position. The position will be posted next week and applications will be accepted until January 31, 2007. . . . GuitarTown unveiled . . . Join Mayor Will Wynn and Asleep at the Wheel's Ray Benson will be on hand for the official unveiling of Austin GuitarTown, a public arts project featuring 10-foot tall Gibson Guitar Sculptures and Showcase guitars. This is a great opportunity to see the Gibson guitars displayed together before they are placed around the City of Austin. The news conference for the unveiling is set for 4pm in the Pavilion at City Hall. . . . Austin Past and Present . . .After six years of production, input from 200 contributors, 1600 images, two hours of video documentary, 160 biographies and more than 300 picture and text slide shows, it's time to celebrate the completion of Austin Past and Present. Creator and producer Karen Kocher, in collaboration with the Austin History Center Association and the Austin Film Society, will introduce Austin Past and Present, the first-ever interactive digital history of Austin, with the community at a launch party on Tuesday at Laguna Gloria Art Museum.

Join Your Friends and Neighbors

We're a nonprofit news organization, and we put our service to you above all else. That will never change. But public-service journalism requires community support from readers like you. Will you join your friends and neighbors to support our work and mission?

Back to Top