Jan 16

Originally posted to KVUE.com by Eleanor Beck

AUSTIN – Even with the recent rain in Central Texas, it hasn’t fallen in the right places to help alleviate drought conditions.

The Austin Water Utility is hoping for the best but planning for the worst, and one business says homeowners are preparing, too.

As little as one year ago, convincing a homeowner to convert to a xeriscaped yard, a process that uses native plants that naturally need less water, would have taken a strong sales pitch, according to Native Edge President Rodney Stoutenger.

“We used to have to give the ‘native speech’ on why it’s beneficial, we no longer have to do that it’s typically brought to us,” he said.

There’s been a fundamental shift, he says, in his customers’ attitudes, no longer prioritizing growing green as much as going green.

“People are relieving themselves of the duty of having a green, pristine, estate lawn to switching to a drought tolerant landscape,” said Stoutenger.

A smart move as lake levels continue to drop.

As of Jan. 15, Lake Travis and Lake Buchanan are about 34 percent full, low enough to keep Austin in stage two restrictions.

See current lake levels from LCRA

In stage two, watering is allowed once a week. In stage three, watering will still be allowed once a week but for fewer hours. In stage four, no outdoor watering is permitted, according to Derma Gross, Austin Water Conservation Division Manager.

A tough transition, she acknowledges. Austin Water put it to the public Thursday night: help us find a compromise.

Austin Water is essentially proposing instituting the emergency equivalent of ‘stage 3.5’, something more severe than stage three but less severe than stage four.

Gross says depending on feedback, that could include additional regulations on business like carwashes and landscapers.

They also want the public’s help to establish a lake level trigger for stage four restrictions. Currently, none exists.

Thursday was the first of two meetings on this issue tonight. The second meeting will be held Feb. 19. Austin Water is aiming to have a fully formed plan for what additional stage three restrictions could look like by March 1.

Stoutenger agrees, creating tiers within stage three would be helpful.

“I think jumping from stage three to stage four without any tiers or without any step in between will be very drastic. And I think there’s going to be backlash,” said Stoutenger

In the meantime, there are other ways to cut back. He estimates a xeriscaped yard uses about 50 percent less water than a traditional lawn.

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