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 more than 280 inhabitants every day.

Satisfying this population growth is driving increased groundwater pumping, at the risk of 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, 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 recently adopted a 100-year water supply plan that envisions the water needs of a population four times larger being met without importing water resources. Nearly a third of future additional supplies could be sourced by buildings that capture and treat their own water.

Southwest of Austin, the fast-growing town of Wimberley recently committed to build the first “One Water” school in Texas. By sourcing most of its water from rainwater, air conditioning condensate and treated wastewater, the school will use 90 percent less groundwater. By doing so, the new primary school will protect flows at nearby Jacob’s Well, which went dry for the first time in recorded history during the recent 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 which does not demand a net increase in water consumption. We are participating on a local Task Force that is implementing Austin’s Water Forward plan. As a conduit for water offset projects in Texas, we are also looking for companies that are expanding in Central Texas to achieve Net Zero in their own operations or through offsets that advance Net Zero in local schools or other public buildings. And recognizing the need to advance solutions to address the real up-front costs that these alternative approaches present to project sponsors, we are committed to partnering on financial innovations that will make these approaches accessible to a broader array of development projects.