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Urban Water Initiative

downtown Austin aerial
Aerial of downtown Austin

Project Summary

In November 2018, the Austin City Council unanimously approved adoption of Austin Water’s Water Forward Plan, outlining the City's 100-year water resiliency plan. The plan upends Texas’ traditional water-supply planning and includes tactics that have thus far been overlooked or under-utilized in the Lone Star State.

To ensure that Water Forward is implemented in a strategic and timely manner and that strategies chosen will address affordability and benefit the community at-large, the Meadows Center is working in collaboration with the National Wildlife Federation's Texas Living Waters Project and the Hill Country Alliance to support implementing the plan, further institutionalizing One Water policy mechanisms in Austin, and spreading the adoption of One Water principles into urban, suburban, and rural communities of the Texas Hill Country such as San Marcos, New Braunfels, Wimberley, Blanco and others. 

The primary objectives include:

  • Within the next year, put in place codes and ordinances that facilitate the implementation of Water Forward 
  • Address concerns around One Water’s impact on affordability by working with local affordable housing experts and organizations to ensure that the One Water strategies undertaken do not disproportionately impact low-income communities. 
  • Engage the engineering and building communities to serve as One Water allies and as leaders in driving a shift toward One Water practices.
  • Spread the adoption of One Water principles into Austin’s neighboring Hill Country communities.
  • Leverage the One Water Summit to build momentum in Austin and Central Texas for One Water.

Successful implementation of Water Forward will require significant institutional change among multiple city departments, sustained support from a broad constituency and the confidence of both elected leaders and water managers that One Water strategies will work. The partners in this project are bringing subject matter expertise to the leadership of the Water Forward Implementation Task Force and serving as a crucial bridge between the Task Force, Austin Water, City Council and the community at-large.


  • Activities:

    • Work with Austin Water and others to encourage and support prompt action to identify and prioritize development of codes and ordinances as well as strategic updates to achieve 2025 goals.
    • Ensure that the Austin City Council is informed about which codes and ordinances require updating and that the Council Members are involved in timeline deliberations.
    • Encourage inter-departmental collaboration between Austin Water, Watershed Protection and other relevant departments within the City to eliminate internal roadblocks to effective implementation of programs we are working to establish.


    • Priority code and ordinance updates for Phase 1 of Water Forward are underway or are completed by August 2020. These include requirements for new development to submit a water budget, use of non-potable water (generated onsite or delivered through a centralized reuse system) for certain indoor uses and outdoor landscapes, and water conserving landscape requirements for commercial properties. Other strategies will be identified as well. 
  • Activities:

    • Working with Austin’s Watershed Protection Department and Austin Water Utility, we will encourage co-financing of rainwater harvesting infrastructure for single-family homes through the stacking of rebates or other incentives to maximize uptake of multi-benefit, distributed infrastructure in the Waller Creek watershed (the location of the city’s first pilot of this infrastructure strategy).
    • Collaborate with Pacific Institute on their study of the Waller 3 project to quantify the co-benefits associated with the implementation of One Water projects.
    • Actively engage in the Stakeholder Committee for the Shoal Creek Watershed Plan to identify Water Forward strategies that will also achieve watershed plan objectives.
    • Track development of the Shoal Creek Watershed Plan to ensure it incorporates One Water concepts as part of this EPA/ Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) funded watershed protection plan.
    • Work with the Austin School District’s Sustainability Manager to ensure that the district’s Project Development Manual, which guides design on new buildings, includes One Water concepts.  


    • Establishment of a neighborhood-wide rainwater capture program that demonstrates improvements in water conservation, restoration of stream base flows and water quality.
    • Pacific Institute’s multi-benefit work facilitates greater alignment between Austin Watershed Protection Department and Austin Water Utility to optimize investment of time, money and other resources.
    • Watershed plan for Shoal Creek (which must be approved by TCEQ) is among the first TCEQ-approved watershed plans to incorporate One Water management strategies.
    • AISD’s Project Development Manual that includes One Water practices.    
  • Activities:

    • Engage affordability leaders to understand how strategies included in Water Forward impact their communities and collaborate to find solutions that support affordable Water Forward implementation.
    • Working through the Water Forward Task Force, assemble best practices related to equity and affordability for One Water practices. We will examine other communities’ policies to manage the gentrification that could follow One Water investments as well as policies that equitably allocate the cost of One Water methodologies, particularly those undertaken on private property that increase community resilience. The Task Force will recommend appropriate policies for implementing Water Forward.
    • Work with the Water Forward Task Force, Austin Water, City Council, the City’s Equity Office, affordable housing NGOs, neighborhood organizations and faith groups to ensure that equity and affordability is built into the codes, ordinances, incentives and capital projects implemented as part of Water Forward.


    • Affordability and equity measures integrated into Water Forward are sufficient to warrant the support of Austin’s affordable housing community.
  • Because Austin relies on the Highland Lakes for its water supply, the city must engage upstream communities in One Water principles to ensure the resilience of that supply during droughts. 


    • Partners will consult with communities exploring adoption of One Water strategies and connect them to resources. One-on-one relationships with utility managers and elected officials will be cultivated.
    • Professionals, city managers and civic leaders from Hill Country communities are invited to participate in One Water workshops featuring peers from Austin to highlight lessons learned from Water Forward.
    • Relevant data and policies generated by the Water Forward task force are re-packaged in a way that is applicable for small urban, suburban, and rapidly growing rural communities.


    • Two Hill Country communities engage in a regional One Water conversation, attend the 2019 One Water Summit, and incorporate One Water principles into their supply options or build a One Water demonstration project.
  • Small urban, suburban, and rural communities rely on consultant engineers to guide water-supply development and management.  By engaging the engineering community, we can ensure that these communities receive a full menu of water management options, including One Water approaches.


    • A census is conducted of engineering firms working within the Hill Country to identify and engage firms with influence over significant water resources and encourage their use of One Water strategies.   
    • An educational workshop for Hill Country officials is held to encourage them to push for innovative One Water solutions as a part of their water management strategy.
    • Representatives from engineering, development and planning firms with One-Water competencies participate in peer-to-peer workshops for Hill Country professionals and visit with Hill Country leaders.
    • A guide book compiling One Water resources and case studies and listing One Water-savvy engineering firms is disseminated to workshop participants, Hill Country leaders and other stakeholders.


    • Partners have a clear understanding of which engineering firms are in a position to influence water-management strategies in rural Hill Country communities.
    • Leadership from the engineering, development and planning communities actively support One Water implementation in Austin and the Hill Country.
    • Resources on One Water principles and strategies are disseminated in professional and leadership circles
    • Engineering firms with One Water competencies are actively promoted to Hill Country communities
  • Activities:

    • Finalize a study of the state-level policy obstacles and opportunities for policy changes that would accelerate One Water adoption in Austin and the State of Texas.
    • Identify priority action items.
    • Assemble a diverse team of stakeholders to create strategy for removing impediments.


    • Priority impediments stemming from state law and policies are identified.
    • Stakeholders are identified and recruited and a strategy for removing statewide impediments to One Water is developed.
  • Activities:

    • Recruit diverse stakeholders to participate in the delegations to the 2019 One Water Summit from Austin and the Hill Country region.
    • Promote Austin and Hill Country One Water demonstration projects at One Water Summit to raise visibility of local leadership and prompt stakeholders to invest in storytelling related to their leadership.
    • The partners will ensure that concrete examples of Austin’s leadership in One Water are demonstrated at the One Water Summit through workshops and/or site visits showcasing path-breaking projects in Austin.
    • Build on the momentum from the One Water Summit through regular convening of the Austin and Texas Hill Country delegations after the summit.


    • The Austin and Hill Country delegations will have strong “Commitments to Action” that reflect our strategic goals at the 2019 One Water Summit.
    • Progress on achieving the “Commitments to Action” will be made after the summit through the Austin and Hill Country One Water Working Groups
    • Four new communities are engaged in the Hill Country delegation and working group. The Austin delegation and working group has increased participation and more city departments represented. 

Project Resources


This project is funded by the Pisces Foundation.