Water Issues Require Broad Approach

RECEIVED Wed., Sept. 7, 2011

Dear Editor,
    Amy Smith’s story saying Austin Water should have implemented Stage 2 restrictions earlier ignores broader water issues critical to dealing with the increasingly serious drought [“Drought? What Drought?,” News, Sept. 2]. First, most Central Texas communities who rely on Colorado River water are only now going to mandatory, two days per week watering restrictions. Austin has mandatory two days per week restrictions, drought or not, year-round, for commercial customers and from May 1 through Sept. 30 for residential users. (Since the 2009 drought, year-round restrictions have been kept in place for all customers.) The response of Austin citizens to the restrictions has led to savings far exceeding original goals set by City Council. With Stage 2, Austin moves to one day per week mandatory restrictions, remaining stricter than surrounding communities. It is important that Austin take such a leadership role and is also reflective of the spirit of the city. To understand the drought and Austin’s impact on lake levels, however, requires examination of a bigger picture. For example, in the recent dry year 2009, Austin’s municipal use accounted for only 7% of stored water use from the Highland Lakes (including evaporation), and 15% when counting stored water and available river flow. In contrast, downstream rice farmers use roughly three times as much water as Austin and in 2009 about seven times more out of lake storage. As inflows to the lakes reach record lows and Austin implements Stage 2, releases from lake storage equivalent to the amount of water in Lady Bird Lake are being made roughly twice a week to rice farmers; significant releases will continue through mid-October. For comparison, Austin Water estimates that savings from Stage 2 will take three to four months to equal the water in Lady Bird Lake, or about three days of agricultural releases. Austin Water has been involved in a basinwide stakeholder process for more than a year negotiating terms of a new water management plan that acknowledges the importance of rice farming, lake communities, and the environment while better protecting Austin’s water supply. A basinwide approach can result in much larger savings, especially in lake storage (essential to Austin’s supply), during what may turn out to be the harshest drought in recorded Texas history. Thanks to all the citizens who are doing their part to conserve at this critical time.
Daryl Slusher
Austin Water, assistant director
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