Showering, irrigating and drinking are just a few of the activities that require clean water. But as Austin’s population continues to grow and water demands increase, our groundwater resources may soon run dry.
In January, the School of Architecture published a report describing unsustainable water usage in the Texas Hill Country — an area that pumps water from local groundwater resources such as the Edwards Aquifer. If this area enters a state where water is drawn from these sources faster than they can be recharged by rain, they will soon become empty and useless for future generations unless individuals take steps to conserve them.
Estimates project that the Austin-Round Rock area population will reach 5.2 million by 2050, which is a staggering increase over the 2 million currently in the area. This tremendous growth brings challenges to sustaining local aquifers. A greater amount of individuals will require clean water, and new construction will decrease the amount of water able to infiltrate aquifers. As one of the major cities in the Texas Hill Country, Austin has a large impact on water demand and must reduce its water usage to ensure the long-term health of our groundwater resources.
The rate of groundwater recharge is directly related to the amount of rainfall in an area, and the occurrence of droughts causes recharge to become slow or nonexistent. According to Britin Bostick, graduate student and contributor to the School of Architecture’s report, Texas’ drought from 2010 to 2015 reduced groundwater levels to a panic point. Bostick said recent rainfall prevents current groundwater recharge rates from being an urgent issue but still emphasized the importance of reducing usage for water security during future droughts.
“As long as we have plenty of rain, we’re okay,” Bostick said. “But if we go into another drought cycle, and we continue to have this population growth, we may not have enough water to support all of these people without being really considerate about how we use water.”
The occurrence of a drought in the future is inevitable, and due to global climate change, the associated effects will likely become more intense. To ensure water security now before it is too late, water conservation must start on an individual level. This conservation can come from small changes such as taking shorter showers or choosing to landscape with native plants. But these efforts succeed only if a deep understanding of groundwater’s importance changes the city’s approach to water usage.
“If it’s just one person conserving water, it doesn’t really make a difference,” Bostick said. “But if your entire city is focused on good conservation principles, it makes a huge impact.”
As more people enter Austin and other areas in the Texas Hill Country, sustaining our water resources will become increasingly difficult. Individuals must be aware of how much water they use in a day, and if everyone takes steps to reduce water demand, our aquifers can be preserved for generations to come.
Chan is a journalism freshman from Sugar Land. Chan is a senior columnist.