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Austin announces new water restrictions on everything from lawns to dining out

A sprinkler waters some grass
Deborah Cannon
The city aims to drop water usage by 10-20%.

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With water levels continuing to drop in the Highland Lakes that supply Austin, the city is announcing Stage 2 water restrictions to take effect Tuesday. Even if you don’t have a lawn, or don’t bother watering the lawn you have, you could notice the new rules impacting daily life in Austin.

Here are some of the new policies aimed at conserving our water supply.

Lawn watering down to once a week

Under Stage 2 watering restrictions, automatic irrigation and hose-end watering is limited to one day a week. You are allowed to water your lawn using an automatic system only between midnight to 5 a.m. and 7 p.m. to midnight.

You're allowed to use hose-end watering between midnight to 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. to midnight during your designated day.

Under Stage 1 rules, people trying to establish new lawns or landscapes were exempt from watering restrictions. They are no longer exempt. You can find your watering day and a full list of exemptions to the rules, including drip irrigation and soaker hoses for vegetable gardens, here.

Car washing

Charity car washes are prohibited under the new restrictions. At home you can wash your car only with a bucket or a hose with an “auto shut off valve.”

Dining out

If you go to a restaurant, you now have to ask for a glass of water if you’d like one. Restaurants will not be allowed to immediately put water on the table regardless of whether their patrons want it.

Patio misters — also called swamp coolers — at restaurants, bars and other commercial establishments will be allowed to run only from 4 p.m. until midnight.

Golf courses, fountains and more

Under city rules, “large ornamental fountains” will no longer be allowed to operate.

Golf courses that use potable water are allowed to irrigate fairways only on their watering day, while golf tees and greens can be watered every other day only with the approval of Austin Water.

Watering golf course fairways is allowed only between 7 p.m. and midnight or between midnight and 5 a.m. on the course's designated water-use days.

Commercial pressure washing equipment must meet city water efficiency requirements.

Note: If you notice some city parks watering their land in apparent defiance of city policy, it may be because they use non-potable water or water pulled directly from Lady Bird Lake. Irrigating parks with such water exempts them from conservation measures.

Rules to last until drought subsides

Austin gets its water from Lake Travis and Lake Buchanan in the Highland Lakes system of the Colorado River. Those lakes are, at the time of publication, 46% full and projected to drop below 900,000 acre feet of water storage. That automatically triggers Stage 2 conservation restrictions, the goal of which is to cut back city water use by 10-20%.

Stage 3 restrictions go into effect when the lakes drop below 600,000 acre feet of water. Under Stage 3 restrictions, the city must reduce water use by a minimum of 20% under an agreement with the Lower Colorado River Authority, the group that manages Colorado River water.

An acre foot of water is about 326,000 gallons, or the amount of water it takes to cover an acre of land with one foot of water.

You can find a copy of Austin’s drought contingency requirements here. You can also find the LCRA's projections for reservoir levels and other information about the Highland Lakes here.

Penalties for not following Stage 2 water conservation rules may be as much as $1,000 per violation. You can call 311 to report a violation.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said you could only water your lawn for up to three hours during your designated day. The story has also been updated to reflect the correct times for hose-end watering.

Mose Buchele focuses on energy and environmental reporting at KUT. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @mosebuchele.
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