Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

Life By the Drop: A Growing Thirst in Austin

Last year’s drought forced Texans to take a hard look at their water resources. But in many ways the crisis just underlined a scarcity already looming in the state. Most people in Texas live in urban areas, yet most of the water still goes to rural agriculture.

Where will the state find the water to sustain its booming urban population? Many believe some of it will have to come from agriculture, where farmers and ranchers will have to cut back. Others stress conservation. And some think that Texans should be investing in major infrastructure projects to develop new water supplies, like desalination.

Today we take a look at where the city of Austin fits into all of this. During roughly the same time frame that Texans endured the worst single-year drought in the state’s history, Austin was the second fastest-growing city in the U.S.

Like many Texas cities (three of which made the census top ten list for population increase last year) Austin ramped up its conservation during the drought. It strictly limited outdoor watering and other major water-drains, and it fought at the state level what it viewed as threats to its water rights.

At the same time, the city undertook a controversial new water treatment plant project to meet its growing needs, needs that some groups said could be answered with more conservation.

Finally, the city fought for changes in how water rights along the Colorado River are managed. Many in Austin watched with concern as water from the Highland Lakes was diverted to downstream agricultural interests at the height of the drought, an experience that prompted the city to supported a new water plan for the region.

As Greg Meszaros, head of Austin’s Water Utility, told StateImpact Texas, “we pay almost 20 times as much per gallon of water compared to agriculture so we work to make sure we get the full benifits of the water we paid for.”

You can listen to the sound portrait and view a slideshow produced by StateImpact Texas’ Filipa Rodrigues by clicking the video player above.

The is the second in a series of special reports on the 2011 drought, Life By the Drop: Drought, Water and the Future of Texas, in collaboration with KUT News and Texas Monthly.
On Friday at 3 p.m., KUT 90.5 FM will air a one-hour documentary on the drought, hosted by Texas Monthly editor Jake Silverstein and produced by KUT News and StateImpact Texas. The program will air again at 7 p.m. on Monday, and you’ll also be able to hear the entire documentary here and on other public radio stations throughout the state. And you can learn more about the history of the drought at our interactive web page, Dried Out: Confronting the Texas Drought, and share your thoughts on Twitter with the hashtag #txwater.


About StateImpact

StateImpact seeks to inform and engage local communities with broadcast and online news focused on how state government decisions affect your lives.
Learn More »