Commentary: Our world is changing. Our water infrastructure should too.
A sign on the Interstate 35 access road in North Austin on Wednesday advises residents to boil water during the boil water notice.
More than a million Austin Water customers recently joined the ranks of water insecure people temporarily as our water treatment systems were overwhelmed with flood-caused sedimentation.
At least 90,000 of the estimated 500,000 Texans living in neighborhoods lacking infrastructure don’t have basic household water service.
As changes in weather extremes, population and urbanization continue to impact Texas communities, urban water management needs a different approach.
I spend most of my work hours researching, teaching and speaking about water resources, but as my own household muddled our way through our first 24 hours of Austin’s boil water advisory, my daughter pointed out what, in hindsight, seems obvious: Why do we use drinking water to flush our toilets?
But what they don’t do well is accommodate a changing world.
We need to reconsider how we use our valuable, and sometimes vulnerable, drinking water.
Future challenges aside, you can catch glimpses of our water future in Austin.
My graduate students and I recently took a field trip downtown to see almost two dozen examples of new designs and strategies that are working toward a secure water future: everything from riparian buffers and raingardens that help keep the Colorado River clean to water systems that use rainwater, reclaimed water and even air-conditioning condensate.
And that was the most important lesson: Even though we have some good examples of what the future of urban water might look like, the vast majority of Austin buildings, businesses and households are solely dependent on this river.