Austin, Texas, requiring large projects to tap into city’s reclaimed-water system

March 25, 2024

The Austin City Council has approved aspects of a plan that will require developers of large projects to use reclaimed water to make the capital city’s water supply more sustainable.

Under the initiative, called GoPurple, new projects larger than 250,000 square feet built within 500 feet of the city’s purple-pipe reclaimed water infrastructure must connect to it or install an onsite water reuse system.

Housing developments accredited under Austin’s Affordability Unlocked or Texas’ Low Income Housing Tax Credit programs are exempt from the code changes. However, all new developments will have to monitor and assess water use to identify conservation opportunities.

The council also approved the expansion of current incentives for developers to promote water efficiency and conservation. The provisions include reduced monthly fixed charges, expedited building permit review process, low-interest loans, cost sharing, and Travis County-administered property assessed clean energy or PACE assessments and financing.

The program will help Austin save 16 million gallons of water per day by 2040 through reclaiming water and onsite reuse. The program will also help Austin Water, the city’s water utility, avoid an estimated $10 million in potential Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) annual water-use fees.

GoPurple will expand its reclaimed water infrastructure so stormwater, air conditioning condensate and other used water can be collected treated, and increasingly repurposed for flushing toilets, watering landscaping and other non-drinking water purposes.

“Every drop of cheaper reclaimed water that we use for maintaining landscaping and flushing toilets keeps precious drinking water from spiraling down the drain,” Austin Water director, Shay Ralls Roalson said. “We can advance key strategies from our Water Forward plan, which is critical given the drought we are experiencing now and climate impacts to our water supply in the future.”

The history of GoPurple stretches back to the mid-1990s, when Austin Water built a centralized reclaimed water system to supply customers with reclaimed water for irrigation, cooling towers and non-drinking water use.

When drought hit much of Texas from 2008 to 2016, Austin Water created Water Forward, a 100-year water-use plan that emphasizes reuse, conservation and protection of the Texas capital’s water supply. Austin’s Water Forward expanded the centralized reclaimed system for toilet flushing, irrigation and other non-drinking water uses and requires new developments to incorporate onsite water reuse systems. The Austin City Council approved Water Forward in 2018.

Photo by the El Dorado Irrigation District

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