Proposed Updates to Austin’s Mandatory Alternative Water Systems

On July 23, Austin Water conducted its second workshop in response to a Council directive to codify and implement certain water conservation strategies included in the City’s 100-year water plan, Water Forward, as part of the Land Development Code revision process. 

Through the action taken in May, the Council called out commercial developments of 250,000 square feet or more, and directed Staff to report back if they are not able to implement the mandatory water benchmarking, alternative water use, dual plumbing, and landscape transformation strategies described in the plan by the end of 2019. 

At the workshop, staff members shared information gained from the utility’s participation in a national blue ribbon commission working to advance onsite alternative/ auxiliary water-reuse systems to meet non-potable water demands. 

Building upon recommendations from the blue ribbon commission, Staff shared the approach they will be pursuing – which is a phased, incremental approach as follows: 

  • Near-Term: Development of rules and programming to facilitate mandatory Onsite Auxiliary Water Systems in the future. 

    • Staff will work with stakeholders to: 

    1. Develop rules and a regulatory framework that would require

      • Water-Balance (Water-Benchmarking) submissions in the mid-term,

      • In-person meetings with Austin Water staff in the mid-term, and

      • Onsite auxiliary/alternative water-reuse systems further in the future for commercial projects of 250,000 square feet and more. 

    2. Develop a grant program to incentivize onsite alternative/auxiliary water systems for large projects until the mandatory requirement goes into effect. 

  • Mid-Term: Mandatory Water-Balance Submissions and Mandatory Staff-Review Meetings.

    • Once the City’s new Planning and Development Center opens on the former Highland Mall site (anticipated Summer  2020):

      • Developers of all new commercial developments would be required to submit water-balance information. The water-balance application would require information that staff would use to estimate projected water demand and usage, such as a building’s proposed size, uses/functions (retail, restaurant, etc.), and occupancy. This information would be rightly used for planning purposes but it is still to be seen whether, or when and how, this information would be used in the future to require customers to meet water usage targets, as recommended in the plan.  

      • For developments of 250,000 feet or more, developers would be required to meet with Austin Water staff to discuss the water-balance information and explore voluntary participation in the grant program or implementation of other voluntary water conservation measures.

  • Final Phase: Mandate Implemented. Developments of 250,000 feet or more would be required to incorporate onsite water reuse (and dual-plumb buildings as part of these systems) to meet indoor and outdoor non-potable water demands. No specific implementation date has been set yet but it is anticipated that this requirement would not go into effect for at least a few years.  

Staff also presented different types of potential projects in breakout sessions to walk participants through the potential permitting process and solicit feedback on any foreseeable issues. 

On September 10, the Water Forward Task Force is scheduled to meet. It is expected that staff will present this approach, along with public feedback received at the workshop, which was generally supportive of this incremental approach.  

In late September, Austin Water is planning to host another workshop to dive deeper into the details. 

Need help deciphering it all and want to learn more? Check out our other blog posts on this issue, and email us at

Our team has experience in land use regulations and water conservation policy. 

//Tina Bui, Senior Consultant 

Upcoming Meetings:

  • Sept. 10 – Water Forward Task Force meeting, 4pm, Waller Creek Center (625 E. 10th Street, Room 104)

  • Late September – Planned Austin Water Workshop, details under development

Read more of Tina’s insights on the BG Blog

REGULATION: Austin Council to Consider Street Impact Fees at August 8th Meeting

REGULATION: Potential New Water Utility Requirements being Formulated for Council Consideration this Fall

REGULATION: New City of Austin Mandatory Alternative Water Systems Proposed

BlogAJ BinghamWater, Austin, Rules