Central Texas is drought-free. The Highland Lakes are full and for the first time in years, Austin was on the brink of ending its water use restrictions. But not so fast – yesterday the Austin City Council passed new water conservation guidelines, which include some permanent restrictions. The city won’t be going back to the way things were before.
The council voted to tighten water use rules, even during times of plenty. If you have automatic sprinklers at home you'll be allowed to use them once a week on an assigned day. If you water the old fashioned way, with a hose and yard sprinkler, you can water a second time during the week. And watering by hand with a hose is allowed anytime.
However, the ordinance also eases up on home car washing restrictions. Under the current rules, locals can only wash when lakes are mostly full. The new law allows washing with a shut-off nozzle or bucket during tighter times.
At yesterday’s meeting, council members heard testimony and debated the regulations for about an hour. David Foster, state director for the environmental group Clean Water Action, applauded the new rules for considering the cyclical nature of droughts.
“It is true that the reservoirs are full right now, but there’s every reason to believe that won’t be the case going forward,” he said. “The climate models are telling us we’re looking at longer periods of dry spells, punctuated by periods of ample rainfall.”
Representatives from the Sierra Club and the Austin Board of Realtors, among others, also spoke in favor of the law. They argued it was necessary as the city’s population grows, and that it would save money and encourage more sustainable landscaping.
Mayor Steve Adler made his case for the law, too.
“This represents a compromise solution,” he said. “It enables us to maintain a lot of the advancements that we’ve made and I think we should support that because I think that’s where the city ultimately needs to be.”
Those who opposed the law didn’t argue against the importance of conservation—they said these rules weren’t a smart way to save water.
“Horticulturally, it’s not sound,” said longtime landscape architect Aan Coleman. “If you vote for this, you’re actually, in my opinion, not for water conservation.” She argued that the cost of losing plants and trees to under-watering was counterproductive and bad for Austin.
“So we really need to watch what we’re going here because there’s some unintended consequences it’s not just the homeowner affected here – it’s our community projects," she said.
District 6 Council Member Don Zimmerman championed her case, but his amendment easing the new restrictions was voted down. The council voted 7-3 in favor of the ordinance. District 3 Council Member Pio Renteria was absent.