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Austin City Council adopts new portions of water code

Friday, August 17, 2012 by Michael Kanin

After a two-week delay, the members of the Austin City Council on Thursday approved a hefty set of changes to the city’s water code, including a set of firm drought-management triggers based the levels of the Highland Lakes.


The new water use management plan features four levels of drought stages that are triggered by declining lake levels. With each stage, restrictions on water use increase. (See In Fact Daily, Aug. 6, 2012.)


The approval of the new rules, many of which will go into effect within two weeks, comes after Council members received a letter signed by environmental advocates who questioned the Austin Water Utility’s commitment to water conservation and pushed for more stringent lake-level triggers, among other items. Some of the concerns of the environmental group subsided after a meeting with utility officials.


However, consumer advocate and frequent utility critic Paul Robbins continued to hammer on the theme that Austin Water was not aggressive enough in curbing water use during a drought. “You can’t be flexible with this; you can’t argue with a drought,” Robbins said.


Despite Robbins’ criticism, at least one of his colleagues was supportive of utility efforts to curb water use within its jurisdiction. The Sierra Club’s Jennifer Walker told Council members that, after meeting with utility officials, she was convinced that they were honest in their efforts to bring local water consumption to 140 gallons per person per day by 2020. “We feel confident that Austin Water and the (Resource Management Commission) are looking for strategies to meet the 140 (gallons per capita per day) goal.”


Walker’s statement contained an implied caveat. With a nod toward future conservation planning, she noted that she and her colleagues hope to see staff continue to attempt to hit the gallons per capita per day goal. 


The revised code, among other things, establishes mandatory irrigation audits for large properties and a mechanism for evaluations of car-washing equipment. Each of those provisions will go into effect Jan. 1.


On Aug. 10, the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) of Austin sent a letter urging Council members to move forward with the water-code changes, without any major concessions to environmental activists. In the letter, the association was deeply critical of adjusting upwards the triggers for the levels of lakes Travis and Buchanan, water supply reservoirs managed by the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA).


“The proposed drought triggers are aligned with the LCRA and the regional water management model and should not be changed without profound consideration,” wrote BOMA president Ro Sipek and the organization’s water sustainability committee chair Jody McDaniel.


After the hearing, McDaniel told In Fact Daily through a spokesperson that he was “very pleased that Council didn’t allow any tampering with the process.” McDaniel’s spokesperson added that McDaniel “appreciates the hard work and effort that the Austin Water Utility (took) with all of the stakeholders.”

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