Austin Water Eyes Aquifer Storage to Secure City's Future Amid Drought and Growth

Austin Water Eyes Aquifer Storage to Secure City's Future Amid Drought and GrowthSource: Unsplash / Imani
Ryan Anderson
Published on December 10, 2023

As Central Texas grapples with ongoing drought conditions and the pressure of rising populations, Austin Water is pushing ahead with plans to safeguard the city's water supply. The utility has been exploring innovative aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) as part of its long-term strategy, a concept likened to a water savings account. According to KVUE, this approach involves storing surplus water underground to curb evaporation losses, which are particularly significant in the warm climate of Texas.

To announce a pilot storage site by the end of 2023, Austin Water's initiative aligns with the city's ambitious Water Forward plan, detailing the future of Austin's water over the next century. Community input is key to this process, and the utility plans to host open houses in February 2024 to discuss the project's first phase. As Marisa Flores-Gonzalez, the Water Resources Team supervisor for Austin Water, emphasized in a statement obtained by KVUE, "We do understand from other ASR projects that overall water levels for adjacent wells typically increase when water is being added to the ASR and decrease when water is being withdrawn."

Meanwhile, the Austin Monitor revealed that the utility is progressing toward its target of storing 60,000 acre-feet of potable water by 2040. This would bolster the area's reserves in the face of climate disasters, leveraging natural underground aquifers to buffer the city against severe water shortages.

Exploring potential sites over the last year and a half, engineers have been considering aquifers in Travis, Bastrop, and Lee counties for their physical suitability and infrastructure proximity. Helen Gerlach, a project manager, told the Austin Monitor, "A natural aquifer prevents high evaporative losses, like those we experience with reservoirs in warm climates, and storing water in a natural aquifer is more cost-effective than other similarly sized storage options." This strategic move comes in response to both population growth and climate change, which continue to strain water supply systems around the globe.

The implications of ASR technology are not new to Texas, with cities like San Antonio, El Paso, and Kerrville already putting these systems to work. For Austin, these systems promise a more resilient infrastructure capable of weathering the natural calamities that have become all too common.