Monday, January 26, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

Watershed Department maps it out in new guides

Though Austin’s new single-member district system has been actively in place for almost a month, there are undoubtedly countless details to be worked out. There are also opportunities for education, as the Watershed Protection Department has illustrated with a recent project.

The Watershed Protection Council District Profiles project details citywide and district-specific watershed profiles and provides an overview of issues like water quality, erosion and flooding. Each map also addresses past, future and ongoing solutions.

Erin Wood, who works in the city’s Watershed Protection Department, said she helped create the project as a “proactive approach to welcoming the new (City) Council” that is aimed to help orient everyone to the new geography of the districts.

“We’ve been working on these since the summer,” said Wood. “In prepping for the new Council coming in, and adapting to the new geography of the districts, we thought that it would be a great tool for the Council, for the general public, for our own staff and for the boards and commissions to be able to quickly reference for each district the unique characteristic of the watersheds.”

The citywide profile offers information such as how much undeveloped land each Council district has and how land use is distributed within districts; percentages of impervious cover and tree canopy; and flooding and drainage complaints.

For example, according to the profiles, District 2 has the most flooded structures, and District 6 has the least. Districts 5, 10 and 1 have the most drainage complaints, and Districts 6 and 8 have the least. Districts 1 and 2 have the most undeveloped land, and Districts 4 and 9 have the least.

“I think one thing that we really wanted to do was to have profiles for each district, but also show how our watersheds span across the districts and how they interrelate,” said Wood. “So we have maps that show how (a) district fits into all the different watersheds, and we created sort of an overall citywide profile that speaks to the general missions of our department and the types of solutions that we implement.

“We wanted to kind of focus on both what is going on in the district, but also how that fits in to the bigger picture of the other districts and the region, and watersheds that reach way out into Hays and Blanco counties.”

Wood told the Monitor that the Watershed Protection Department is also working on an interactive, online map-viewer that will display watershed-specific information about topics such as drainage complaints, flooding, water quality data and projects. Wood said that it will be ready this spring.

“As staff, we really need to think about how other people think about where they live,” said Watershed Protection’s Wendy Morgan. “I think that, since the city has been divided up, this was just a good opportunity for us.

“I think this is so cool,” Morgan continued. “For me it was just really fascinating to be able to read about my neighborhood and what’s happening, and to think about that this is what my Council member will be dealing with in relation to watershed issues.”

Image from the City of Austin

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

Watershed Protection Department: The city's Watershed Protection Department works to reduce the impact of floods, erosion and water pollution in the city. The department is mostly funded by the city's drainage fee.

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