Future-Proofing Austin's Resources with a 100-Year Integrated Water Plan

Future-Proofing Austin's Resources with a 100-Year Integrated Water Plan
austin water austin, texas, usa
In response to extreme drought conditions, population growth and a changing climate, Austin Water has developed a 100-year plan to ensure a diversified, sustainable, and resilient water future for the next century and beyond.  
Austin, Texas is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country. Experts estimate that the Austin metro area added 55,269 people in 2017; that’s more than 151 people each day.  The reasons for Austin's population surge have been widely documented—from a lower cost of living compared to the East and West coasts and a bustling jobs market—yet growth at this speed puts an undeniable strain on resources like safe, reliable water supplies. And, with the Austin region expected to experience longer and more severe drought conditions in the future, water planning has become more challenging than ever before. 

To establish a path forward, Austin Water partnered with CDM Smith to proactively plan for its future with an Integrated Water Resource Plan (IWRP) that supports the utility's enduring commitment to a diversified, sustainable and resilient water future.    

A True “One Water” Approach  
To compare the trade-offs among water supply alter­na­tives and search for the best combination of strategies to meet the IWRP’s multiple objectives, the project team used a series of models and decision-support tools to arrive at a preferred long-term strategy.  

The process began with a “blue-sky” list of options: 21 water supply options and 25 demand-side options for initial screening. These 47 options were then narrowed down to a total of 25 supply and demand-side options (13 supply-side and 12 demand-side) that were then carried forward for further char­ac­ter­i­za­tion. This robust screening process compared high-level unit costs and their associated imple­men­ta­tion risks, which resulted in a thorough evaluation of portfolios against multiple objectives, as opposed to one that assessed merely supply reliability and cost.  

“This ground­break­ing plan identifies strategies to diversify Austin’s water supplies by expanding conser­va­tion and water reuse, developing alternative water supplies, protecting the environment, and increasing resiliency during droughts and climate change,” said Greg Meszaros, Director of Austin Water. “We have set an overall strategic direction that will help us continue to be an industry leader and improve our operations and resiliency.” 

Ultimately, the city is expected to dramat­i­cally increase the amount of non-drinking water supply that will meet non-drinking water demand by 2115.  

Together, we have created a trans­for­ma­tional plan that balances water conser­va­tion, water reuse, stormwater capture and alternative water supplies
sharlene leurig, Citizen task force chair

Triple Bottom-Line Integration 
In the future, the Colorado River system will likely experience climate change impacts, additional droughts and future uncer­tain­ties. To combat this, the plan’s recom­men­da­tions focused on 3 key focus areas: economic, envi­ron­men­tal and social benefits.  

  • Economic: Working closely with CDM Smith’s partner sub-consultant GHD, the team examined Austin Water’s water demand forecast by breaking down demands by sectors and end-users to more accurately identify where alternative water supply harvesting options could be developed. The team then estimated quantities of water saved and costs for such measures.  

  • Envi­ron­men­tal: Climate scientists project that in the future, Austin will see longer and deeper periods of drought punctuated by heavy rain events. Explicit consid­er­a­tion was taken to incorporate climate change scenarios into water demand forecasting and supply modeling. By using advanced geospatial computer system models, the team was able to evaluate multiple climate change scenarios from the present day to 10,000 years from now.  

  • Social: Austin’s IWRP used an open and partic­i­pa­tory design-making process to establish dialogue with key stake­hold­ers (community and religious groups, policy makers, neigh­bor­hood asso­ci­a­tions, elected officials and envi­ron­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions). With the dynamic outreach process, the team was able to engage in a wide-reaching public support effort that included public workshops, targeted stakeholder meetings, and over 80 other community events throughout the city. A mayor-appointed Citizen Task Force also provided support and input on demand-side and supply-side options and helped to develop an overall strategy with input from regional partners and stake­hold­ers.  

As a result, the city’s historic, civic, social equity and cultural values are reflected in the Austin IWRP—namely continuing a reliance on local water supply, minimizing envi­ron­men­tal impacts from water supply choices, approaching every choice mindful of the 3 key areas, and fully exploring water conser­va­tion as a tool to delay or avoid the need for new water supplies. 

We have set a strategic direction that will help us continue to be an industry leader and improve our operations and resiliency.
Greg Meszaros, Director of Austin Water
Setting A New Standard for Water Planning 
Like many rapidly growing communities around the country, Austin has witnessed the short- and long-term conse­quences of drought and a changing climate. But thanks to a balanced strategy that addressed the city’s current needs and provided a roadmap for the future, Austin is setting a new industry standard for proactive and innovative water management.  

“Together, Austin Water, CDM Smith, the Water Forward Task Force, and the community have created a trans­for­ma­tional plan that balances increased water conser­va­tion, distributed water reuse and stormwater capture, and alternative water supplies,” said Citizen Task Force Chair Sharlene Leurig. “This plan will result in greater economic, envi­ron­men­tal and social benefits for the Austin community.” 
Dan Rodrigo Dan Rodrigo
My inspiration comes from working collaboratively with clients and stakeholders to solve complex problems and build long-lasting advocacy.
Project Details
AAEES Grand Award Winner
The American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists (AAEES) awarded the Water Forward Integrated Water Resources Plan with the organization's Grand Award in the Planning category.
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