Update August 2023:

After outreach to the public and stakeholders and collecting valuable input throughout 2022, Austin Water Conservation have identified the proposed activities to transform landscapes for new single-family homes during an August 10 public meeting and are working with other pertinent city departments to implement the activities in a timely, but effective manner. Please view the August 10 public meeting slide deck and video for more information.

Staff will post quarterly updates regarding implementation progress of the various activities.

  • Soil and compost requirements – Necessary inspections already underway by Development Services Department environmental inspectors.
  • Required water-efficient plants - The requirement for new homebuilders to use 90% of the installed plants from the Environmental Criteria Manual Appendix N is anticipated to take place in the spring of 2024.
  • Required irrigation pressure components, irrigation area limit, and laundry to landscape graywater reuse plumbing – All three components will be a part of Development Service Department’s revised local amendments to the 2024 Unified Plumbing Code. Internal discussions have already started with stakeholder discussion anticipated to take place in the final quarter of 2023.
  • New irrigation inspections – Are expected to start no sooner than January 2024. The inspections will ensure that current local and state requirements are met in new irrigation systems.
  • New homeowner irrigation check-ups and a new homebuilder rainwater harvesting incentive program - Will be initiated in spring of 2024.

Why we are focusing on new Residential Landscapes and Irrigation:

Did you know that landscape irrigation accounts for 32% of all residential water use (from single-family homes) in Austin? That's a lot! It's also a bit of a problem because although Austin is not under an immediate threat of running out of water, two main issues are prompting city leaderships to ensure we’re more prepared for the future…

Climate Change:

Studies show that as time goes on, Austin will likely see longer and deeper periods of drought, potentially impacting our water supply.

Rising Population:

Austin’s population is expected to keep growing, potentially increasing the demand on our water resources.

Waterwise landscaping

Project Background:

After a drought (that lasted from 2008-2016) exposed these vulnerabilities in our water system and made real the threat of climate change, city leaders got together and created Water Forward(External link); a plan to guide Austin's water future for the next 100 years. It was written by a team of Austin residents and city staffers and was adopted in 2018.

Its recommendations are focused along a few key principles-increasing our water supply, reducing demand for water, and expanding water reuse.

One of the Water Forward recommendations aimed at reducing our water use is an Irrigation and Landscape Ordinance for new residential single-family properties.

Austin has actually had a landscape ordinance for commercial and multi0family properties since 1979, but we’ve never had one for single-family homes.

The idea behind an ordinance like this is to set some sort of requirement for conserving water in irrigation systems and landscapes. In other words, reduce the amount of water people use on their lawns. An ordinance is just a fancy name for a city rule.

The Irrigation and Landscape Ordinance

This new ordinance is still in the early stages of development and Austin Water wants YOU to help decide what goes into it. Key questions that still need to be decided include:

  • Should only certain types of native or adapted plants/grassed be allowed?
  • Should we limit the amount of lawn grass?
  • How do we balance affordability with water conservation efforts?
  • Should we limit the size of automatic irrigation systems?

This ordinance will only apply to new homes.

Concerned that water friendly landscaping means you can have a nice looking lawn? Don’t worry! There are actually lots of clever ways to reduce water use, including using mulch to prevent water loss through evaporation and changing irrigations heads to drip nozzles.

Why this matters:

Creating an ordinance like this will help to meet two key goals from Water Forward that will impact us all:

  1. Help conserve Austin’s water supply.
  2. Reduce peak day water use which generally occurs in the summer months.

Why does that matter? Obviously we all need Austin to have a consistent water supply but also by reducing our water use, we delay hitting triggers in our contract with Lower Colorado River Authority that will raise our water rates once we start using more water. In other words, this ordinance could help us all save money on our water bill.

Low water use grass with waterwise garden
Waterwise landscape
complete
complete
Initial landscape code research

complete
complete
February 2022: Stakeholder outreach and input

complete
complete
February 2022: Public outreach and input

complete
complete
May 2022: Public outreach and input

complete
complete
June 2022: External Stakeholder Meetings

complete
complete
November 2022: Public and Stakeholder meetings

complete
complete
Spring 2023: Presentation of proposed code language

complete
complete
Spring 2023: Presentations to Boards and Commissions

complete
complete
Summer 2023: Final public feedback meeting

complete
complete
November 2023: Affordability Impact Study

planned
planned
January 2024: Anticipated Date for Residential Irrigation Inspections by Water Conservation Staff

planned
planned
Spring 2024: Residential Plant List Requirement

planned
planned
Summer 2024: Final Ordinance submitted for Council adoption