Nurturing homegrown water solutions in a fast-growing region
The region of the Hill Country between Austin and San Antonio is home to springs that add millions of gallons of flow each day to two important Texas rivers, the Colorado and the Guadalupe-Blanco. This area, known as the I-35 Corridor, also attracts several hundred new residents every day.
Satisfying this population growth is driving increased groundwater pumping that is further depleting already-stretched water supplies. New regional supply options bringing water from further afield can meet near-term water demands, but with escalating costs and steady population gains, many question how we will find dependable and affordable sources of water for the long haul.
Using an approach known as Net Zero water, we believe new growth can be part of the water supply solution in Central Texas.
The concept is taking hold in places like Austin, which adopted a 100-year water supply plan in December 2018 that envisions the water needs of a population four times larger being met without importing water resources. More than 20 percent of future additional supplies could be sourced from developments that capture and treat their own water.
Southwest of Austin, the fast-growing town of Wimberley opened the state’s first “One Water” school in 2020. By sourcing most of its water from rainwater, air conditioning condensate and treated wastewater, the school is using 90 percent less groundwater than a typical school. By doing so, the new primary school is protecting flows at nearby Jacob’s Well, which went dry in 2010 for the first time in recorded history during the devastating statewide drought.
These sorts of homegrown approaches to water management can dramatically reduce the water demanded by new growth. Buildings designed to capture, store and treat water are able to meet their needs with only 10-30 percent of the water demanded by comparably sized buildings. In the case of the Wimberley school and the new Travis County Courthouse (dual-plumbed to use onsite water resources including air-conditioning condensate and rainwater), the additional cost of adding these features will net out after roughly a decade, leading to long-term cost savings from lower water bills.
Texas Water Trade is committed to supporting the growth of these water management practices in Central Texas, important steps toward Net Zero growth that does not demand a net increase in water consumption. We work with companies that are expanding in Central Texas to help them achieve Net Zero in their own operations or through offsets that advance Net Zero in their local communities. And we partner with developers to advance Net Zero concepts, from the preliminary water balance stage through to regulatory approval and project financing.
We are also committed to spurring financial innovations that can accelerate Net Zero water all across Texas. Building owners can save significant money over the long run by capturing and reusing onsite water sources like rainwater, wastewater and air conditioner condensate for non-potable needs such as lawn irrigation, cooling or toilet flushing. Yet water reuse is still far from mainstream in Texas, in large part because of the significant upfront cost incurred to tap into these water sources.
To encourage broader uptake, Texas Water Trade and the National Wildlife Federation published a report in September 2021 describing how developers could use a state-enabled financing program, Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE), to finance water reuse projects with little or no upfront capital costs. Working with the counties and cities in the I-35 Corridor with authorized PACE financing programs, we hope to enable more project developers to demonstrate that Net Zero is possible today.