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By W. Gardner Selby September 17, 2011

Save Our Springs says water utility customers have used less water on peak day every year since 2001

Crediting conservation in Austin, the Save Our Springs Alliance said in an Aug. 16, 2011, entry in its online newsletter: "Ten years ago the Austin Water Utility used a total of 240.3 million gallons. Every summer since then our peak day of water use has been lower."

After noting that this year’s peak water use in a day was 217 million gallons, the entry continues: "So raise a tall glass of ice water in honor of our success: water conservation gains have outpaced population growth for a decade. Add a ‘Salud!’ to another 10 years of flat or declining water use — easily achieved with cost-effective conservation measures and an emerging ‘culture of conservation,’ one that recognizes that we can thrive and be happy without oversized, overwatered New England-style turf grass lawns."

We can’t check on the next decade, but we can check if peak water usage has been less every year than what it was in 2001.

Indeed, the Austin Water Utility sent us figures indicating that on the peak days of water consumption from 2002 through August 2011, customers used less water than the 240.3 million gallons used on Aug. 13, 2001, though that was barely so in one year.

The greatest peak use day since 2001 was Aug. 26, 2006, when usage was 240.17 million gallons — about 5/100ths of a percent shy of the amount gulped, flushed and otherwise used in 2001. The lowest peak-use amount in the 10 years after 2001 was 176.98 million gallons on Aug. 13, 2007.

Put another way, the average peak water use in a day in the period was about 214 million gallons, 11 percent off the 2001 peak.

The utility’s director, Greg Meszaros, told us in an interview that conservation helps explain the lower peak-use amounts, though he said consumption generally bounces around year to year partly due to variations in the weather — rainy summers reduce demand — and the economy.

Per-capita water consumption has been relatively flat, Meszaros said, since the utility instituted a conservation program in 2007 that, among features, encourages customers to use low-water appliances and limit lawn watering.

According to the utility, customers have used less water per person lately than individuals did in past years. Per-capita daily use has averaged 190 gallons or more four times since 1990, the last time being 2006. Average per-person consumption slid to 151 gallons in 2007, reached 170 gallons in 2008 and then dipped two straight years, reaching less than 140 gallons in 2010. Daryl Slusher, an assistant director for the utility, said the average will approach 160 gallons for the year that ends Sept. 30.

Save Our Springs maintains the area’s conservation successes demonstrate that a water treatment plant slated for Northwest Austin won’t be needed for many years.

Meszaros told us Austin needs the new plant because two current plants can’t be relied on indefinitely. Also, he said, the new project will include a vital water transmission main easing the delivery of water to the fast-growing northern third of the utility’s service area. "We’re not doing (the new plant) just to meet a peak water demand," Meszaros said.

In an interview, Bill Bunch, SOS’s executive director, expressed skepticism about strains in the existing water delivery system. He also said there’s not sufficient water demand to justify the new one and forwarded an April 2002 recommendation from city staff about preliminary engineering for the new plant. The document states the plant would be needed by 2009 to meet increasing water demands, predicting too that the utility’s peak one-day demand in summer 2009 would be 281 million gallons; the peak amount that year turned out to be 228 million gallons.

Utility spokesman Kevin Buchman later told us by email that in 2002, the "main reason for moving forward with the construction of a new plant was to meet the projected demands." He said, though, the utility’s mid-decade focus on conservation allowed the city to postpone the plant’s completion by more than five years. "Also," Buchman said, "since 2002 we have had one of our (originally three) plants decommissioned and our other two water plants have been expanded as much as possible."

We won’t try to settle the water plant debate here. But the alliance’s statement about peak water use rates True.

Featured Fact-check

Our Sources

Austin Water Utility, chart and slides, "Peak Day Pumpage and Usage Summary Table" and "Gallons Per Capita Per Day" (received Sept. 1, 2011)

Telephone interview, Greg Meszaros, director, Austin Water Utility, Sept. 1, 2011

Telephone interview, Daryl Slusher, assistant director for Environmental Affairs and Conservation, Austin Water Utility, Sept. 13, 2011

Telephone interview, Bill Bunch, executive director, Save Our Springs Alliance, Austin, Sept. 12, 2011

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Save Our Springs says water utility customers have used less water on peak day every year since 2001

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