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Austin Water aims to bring new conservation ordinances before Council in December

Tuesday, August 18, 2020 by Jessi Devenyns

Timelines across the city have been adjusted or paused following the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the ongoing limitations imposed by the “new normal” have not stopped Austin Water from developing new conservation ordinances to bring before City Council in December.

The city water utility plans to bring at least two ordinances before Council for a vote by the end of the year, the utility’s Mark Jordan told the Resource Management Commission at its Aug. 17 meeting. The two ordinances will include a proposal to add efficiency standards for water cooling towers and associated administrative penalties for violating these standards. An additional proposed ordinance will incentivize the capping or removal of automatic irrigation systems on commercial sites by allowing waivers for eligible properties.

Jordan also told the commission that Austin Water is “looking hard” at taking the three conservation ordinances it proposed as part of the Land Development Code rewrite and moving ahead with bringing these ordinances separately before Council for approval. While he said there is general support for the provisions in the code rewrite, “right now we’ve not yet pulled that trigger.”

The water utility is proposing a water benchmarking and balance calculator ordinance that is geared toward helping commercial properties regulate water use; a reclaimed water connections requirement that mandates small businesses within 250 feet and large-scale developments within 500 feet of a reclaimed water line to connect to the graywater source; and on-site water reuse rules that will require developments of over 250,000 square feet to meet non-potable water demands from on-site reuse and reclamation sources.

Commissioners Smitty Smith and Kaiba White voiced their support for separately proposing these ordinances before Council rather than waiting for the code rewrite to be reignited. “Let’s get started would be my view of that,” White said.

The Land Development Code rewrite has been put on the back burner following the city’s appeal of a court decision earlier this spring that voided Council’s votes on the code; within the same time frame, pandemic-related concerns took precedence on the dais.

Austin Water is also developing a residential landscaping ordinance it hopes to implement in June 2023. The new rules will encourage the use of native, drought-tolerant plants in landscape designs and also limit the use of turf grass and automatic irrigation systems to two and a half times the building footprint or not more than 10,000 square feet, whichever is less.

In addition to working on a roster of new ordinances, Jordan told commissioners that the utility is beginning a pilot for its advanced metering infrastructure (AMI). Also known as smart meters, the technology monitors water consumption in real time and is Wi-Fi-enabled to help customers manage their water use and identify potential leaks. The pilot will roll out next month to 5,000 Austin Water customers in the Mueller and River Place neighborhoods and will continue through March 2021.

If the pilot is successful, the full deployment of smart meters will roll out over the next five years and eventually replace 265,000 analog meters.

White expressed her concern that this metering technology was not aimed at multifamily properties or low-income customers. She asked the water utility to look into how to include these populations in the program.

Jordan explained that most individual units at multifamily properties are sub-metered by meters owned by private facilities, which makes it difficult to integrate city-owned technology. However, he said that the utility is working with Austin Energy to offer additional programming to customers who need assistance or are identified as low-income.

The Resource Management Commission encouraged Austin Water to continue moving forward with its programming and conservation ordinances. “I think if you can find any train that’s moving,” Smith said, “put your baggage on the moving train.”

Photo made available through a  Creative Commons license.

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