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Proactive and Reactive Strategies of Water Planning

As published in the Lake Travis View, May 2023

Water is a precious resource, especially in Texas with the state’s ever-growing population and fluctuating climate conditions. Even when the floods come, there is a drought right around the corner, requiring a constant need to manage and conserve water resources effectively. Water conservation plans and drought contingency plans are two approaches water utilities across the state use to ensure water resources are managed efficiently in both the short term and long term with proactive as well as reactive strategies.

A water conservation plan is a comprehensive strategy designed to promote water efficiency and reduce water use over an extended period. The plan typically includes a combination of water-saving measures, such as:

  • Water efficiency education campaigns that encourage customers to use water efficiently and to reduce waste.
  • The installation of low-flow fixtures, such as aerators on faucets, water-saving showerheads and low-flow toilets.
  • The use of alternative water sources, such as rainwater, graywater or recycled water for nonpotable purposes.
  • The adoption of landscape water conservation practices, such as native planting and irrigation efficiency measures.
  • The implementation of water loss management programs such as early leak detection, system maintenance and effective repairs.

A drought contingency plan, on the other hand, is a response plan that outlines specific actions that should be taken during times of drought as water sources become increasingly scarce. The plan typically includes a series of stages that reflect the severity of the drought and the corresponding water restrictions that will be implemented. For a water utility that uses surface water (such as a lake) as their source for raw water, triggers for these stages are typically based on water levels. Restrictions range from the utility encouraging voluntary water conservation measures to strictly imposed water use limitations and water rationing.

There is no greater example of the benefits of water planning than an event known as Cape Town Day Zero. Cape Town, one of South Africa’s most populated cities, was predicted to run out of water on April 12, 2018, making it the first major city in the world to face such an acute water crisis. It is believed to be caused by a combination of factors, including population growth, an extended lack of rainfall and limited planning. The consequences of Day Zero would have been catastrophic with hospitals, schools and other essential services severely affected. Careful decisions would need to be made on who gets access to the limited amount of water with many businesses and industries ceasing to operate without it. Thankfully, Day Zero was averted while waiting for rainfall season by implementing harsh restrictions, issuing stiff penalties for non-compliance, and increasing distribution efficiency to curb water losses.

Water utilities are instrumental in water use planning and stewards of local water supply to help meet the needs of residents today, while also protecting it as a natural resource for future generations. Individuals also play their part in water management by adopting water-saving habits around their home such as quickly fixing leaks and minimizing non-essential use. Many water utilities, like the Lakeway MUD, have implemented advanced metering infrastructure and offer software (such as WaterSmart) to their customers to help them detect leaks sooner and provide tips for using less water.

Written by Stephanie Threinen, public information liaison for Lakeway Municipal Utility District. Earl Foster is the district’s general manager.