Austin water use at record low

Water use per person in Austin has fallen to the lowest point since the city began keeping records more than two decades ago.

The historic low continues a trend in water usage in the aftermath of drought conditions spanning from 2008 to 2016 that strained Central Texas’ water systems.

Austin Water officials tallied 2019 water use, including commercial customers, at 120 gallons per person per day. The water utility says it serves more than 1 million people in the Austin area across more than 548 square miles.

In 1996, when the city’s population was less than 700,000, officials counted 193 gallons per person each day. Totals stayed above 170 gallons nearly every year through 2006, when usage again peaked around 190 daily gallons.

In 2007, city leaders launched programs to chip away at water use over time.

Daryl Slusher, Austin Water’s assistant director for environmental affairs and conservation, said those efforts — which include watering restrictions, encouraging people to build drought-resistant landscapes, and programs to capture and reuse water — contributed to a tumble in usage that has pushed the number to below 130 gallons per capita since 2014.

“We were able to really drive it down during the drought,” Slusher said. “But the traditional pattern is once you get through a drought, use spikes back up.

“We worked really hard here to keep our use from spiking.”

One of the biggest drivers of water use in the city has been lawn watering, which had no mandatory restrictions before 2007. Now, hose watering is limited to two days per week on residential properties, and automatic irrigation systems are restricted to one day per week.

Read more from Mark D. Wilson with the Austin American-Statesman here.