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Central Texas must adapt to growing business and increased demand for water

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Austin (KXAN) — More businesses are expanding their operations in Central Texas, bringing more people and demand to resources in the region. This growth has raised concerns about strains on water supplies.

Tesla opened its new car manufacturing facility, Gigafactory Texas, in April. Social media companies like Meta and TikTok are leasing space downtown, and Google is finishing construction on a new skyscraper. Last year, Samsung Electronics announced it would expand operations in central Texas by building a semiconductor factory in Taylor, and an incentive application filed in July indicated it was considering further growth here. I was.

In June, Austin entered Phase 1 of drought restrictions due to low water levels in Lake Travis and Lake Buchanan.

“We are experiencing a fairly intense heatwave…hotter than normal temperatures for this time of year, and not much rain lately. So here in Central Texas, especially in Austin, water resources haven’t been great.

The Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) manages water from Lake Highland in Texas. If drought conditions continue to worsen, LCRA will limit the amount of water provided to various ‘tiers’ of customers.

“We (the city of Austin) are going to get water no matter what,” said Paul DiFiore, project manager for the Colorado River Reserve. “Rice farmers downstream, closer to the Gulf Coast, consume large amounts of water…during periods of severe drought, they are restricted from receiving normal water from Lake Highland in Colorado.”

The Colorado River Conservancy is a group dedicated to the protection and conservation of the Lower Colorado River Basin.

Central Texas residents and businesses may never run out of water, but the demand for factories, population growth, and the pressures of climate change are increasing the demand for water resources.

“As the population grows, the water levels in those lakes (Lake Buchanan and Lake Travis) will rise and fall much lower than they have in the past. Meadows Center for Water and Environment “This organization incorporates research, leadership, education and water stewardship,” said Robert Mace, Mento Executive Director.

Austin has a plan for the future of water, the Water Forward Plan. It offers strategies to conserve water resources through reuse and conservation. Austin Water said in a statement that its plans include forecasts for future populations and sectors, but it does not specifically forecast industry movements, such as technology firms moving to Austin.

“Water Forward’s baseline water demand forecast includes increased demand in most sectors, including the technology/industrial use sector,” said Randall Mena, Public Information Specialist at Austin Water. . “Water Forward Plan strategies, including water conservation and water reuse, are expected to help offset some of these potential future uses.”

Samsung’s Taylor expansion offers a potential solution to the growing demand for water resources. Electronics companies are not under his LCRA jurisdiction and are not Austin Water customers. Instead, it receives the millions of gallons of ultrapure water it needs from a town about 25 miles away.

US News reports that Samsung has struck a deal with Canadian company EPCOR to outsource Alcoa’s groundwater. ALCOA previously owned 32,000 acres of land and groundwater rights that it had sold to various tenants, including in Williamson County.

It is not clear if EPCOR will provide water to other Samsung expansion facilities or other companies wishing to move to Austin.

Experts say the best solution for Austin’s water future is more investment in the city’s water infrastructure. Perry Fowler, executive director of the Texas Water Infrastructure Network, said Austin Water is doing well toward diversifying its water resources, but needs investment and expansion in the city’s infrastructure. rice field.

“I think there are a lot of people doing the right thing from a policy standpoint,” Fowler said. “If only we could develop additional supplies, strengthen our infrastructure, and make sure it’s efficient and working properly so we don’t lose water unnecessarily.”

Further investments in infrastructure could resemble more reusable water transport pipelines and purple piping systems, as well as investments in more roads and electrical systems.

Fowler said tech companies wouldn’t consider moving to central Texas if there weren’t enough water resources.

“If the community is really mobilized against the backdrop of the need to develop better water infrastructure, then industrial users will be able to get on board and reap the economic benefits,” said Fowler. increase. “I think we are making some progress, but we certainly need more investment.”