Imagine Austin priority program 2: Sustainably manage our water resources

This post is part of a series on Imagine Austin’s priority programs, in light of Austin’s current CodeNEXT rewrite process. View the entire series here.

This program is focused on conserving water resources and improving watershed health. This includes issues such as public health, recreation, conservation, and water supply. Austin’s Water Utility is municipally owned, which allows Austin Water to work more closely with all departments that have an impact on water supply and watershed health.

In the past four years, we have gone through significant drought, highlighting the need for careful conservation of our water resources. We have also had some significant floods which have damaged many homes, particularly in the Onion Creek area. These events have highlighted the need for watershed protection to ensure creeks and streams are healthy and can handle heavy rains. Because of Austin’s location in “flash flood alley” this concern was built into Imagine Austin with this priority program.

Key updates in the past four years include:


1,700 acres of land over the critical Edwards Aquifer recharge zone has been preserved from development. Preservation is a key step in ensuring that our water supply as well as that of San Antonio’s is protected from pollutants.

City council approved buyouts of homeowners living in the floodplain of Onion Creek. This action was taken after devastating floods in which many families lost their homes. Much like Boggy Creek and its floodplain, the homes purchased will be demolished and the creek will undergo restoration and protection as natural wetland to ensure safety for residents as well as proper runoff in storm events.


This ordinance was adopted by city council and Travis County Commissioners Court in 2013. It’s a huge document and you can read all of it here if you want to. The most important part is this—a large community of stakeholders worked together to balance the needs of the environment with desire for development (all the new residents to Austin have to live somewhere). Stream buffers keep development far enough away from streams and creeks to remain safe from floods as well as to prevent erosion. With the increased setbacks, the city plans to restore creek beds as well as provide trails for people to walk and cycle, serving to connect communities and provide options for healthy transportation.


Through water restrictions as well as rebates for rain harvesting and newer homes built with more water-saving features, Austin has decreased water consumption significantly city-wide.

Austin is well on its way to better protection of our water resources now and in the future. Although we have had heavy rain this year and lakes are now full, the programs which have been put into place will help with conservation and protection no matter what, as our area is prone to flood as well as drought.  Because of the progress we’ve made we are more resilient in the face of any changes in our climate.

Imagine Austin priority program 5: Continue to Grow Austin’s Economy by Investing in Our Workforce, Education Systems, Entrepreneurs, and Local Businesses

This post is part of a series on Imagine Austin’s priority programs, in light of Austin’s current CodeNEXT rewrite process. View the entire series here.

Everyone hears about how many people are moving here each day as well the booming technology economy, but what about the residents already here who might not have those particular skills? The Workforce and Education priority is all about ensuring that our communities thrive by building up the skills of workforce, investing in small businesses, and investing in our schools.

In the four years since the adoption of Imagine Austin, a lot has changed. More businesses have moved to Austin, more entrepreneurs have started their own businesses, and the city has sought to encourage and help these businesses thrive. A few highlights in this area:


This is an incredible milestone for our city. ACC Highland opened in August 2014 amid great fanfare. They took a defunct mall and turned it into a beautiful space for learning and business incubation. It is the home to a “math accelerator” which provides 604 computer workstations for students to drop in and work on homework, or to take courses at their own pace. It is staffed by tutors who are available to help students who are stuck on problems. It is also home to a partnership with major employer Rackspace to open new offices as well as provide internships to ACC students.


An App was created to encourage residents and visitors alike to explore local small businesses. It provides suggestions based on location and keyword search. Within the App are also links to resources to help small businesses learn about marketing, mentoring, business plans, and financial details of starting a business. Small businesses can list their business free of charge and connect to resources easily.


Throughout the city, hundreds of people have attended programs to learn how to use computers, gain job skills, and learn how to start a business.


The economic development office has undertaken significant reports on the music industry as well as the fashion industry to better understand how they impact the economy as well as the challenges they face. You can read more here and here.

We applaud the efforts of the city to increase opportunities for all Austinites, in particular those without the skills to be most successful in the 21st century economy. We also agree that the benefits to Austin are HUGE from small businesses. If you spend $100 at a local business, $68 stays in Austin. If you spend the same amount at non-local business, only $43 stays in Austin. Keep up the good work Austin, and shop local!Imagine Austin priority programs series

How Bicycles Helped My Family

his is the first in a series of posts showing real life examples of how the proposals in AURA’s Transit City report can benefit Austinites.

I advocate for better transit and mobility options so that all Austinites have choices to go “car lite” and reap the benefits of a healthier, greener, and more affordable lifestyle. This is my family’s story of how we have saved money, gotten healthier, and had less impact on the environment through our transportation choices.

I didn’t own a bicycle 7 years ago. I didn’t really think about it, honestly. But my husband did, and he kept nudging me to get one so we could go out and ride together on some of the beautiful trails in Chicago (where we lived at the time). I relented at some point, “letting” him get me one for my birthday about 6 years ago. Once I got back on, I had this sense of “wow, this is FUN!” I had somehow forgotten that cycling is actually really fun (and way faster than walking).

I rode throughout my first pregnancy and only really stopped when it got too cold in Chicago. When my daughter got old enough, she went in the bike trailer and we flew past all the traffic and parking messes of Chicago to hang out lakeside. It was freedom, and saved us money and headache too!

My husband got a job as a professor at UT in 2013 and we moved to Austin. My daughter was very confused about the lack of sidewalks and why she had to walk in the street. For the first time, she also regularly had to be in a car (we did not own a car in Chicago). She was not too happy about this change, and made it known to us, as preschoolers do. We chose a living situation that meant we could get by with one car; we had already had to purchase one and didn’t really have the money to buy a second. My husband was able to take the UT Shuttle, the 1 or 101 bus, or ride his bike to work so that I could have the car during the day.

Mary and her family biking to school

We moved after about a year when we bought a house but again, we didn’t want to buy another car, so we chose a place that would be near a frequent bus line and close enough to still bicycle to work.

Now, we have two girls and we take them to school and daycare every day on the bicycle (except for thunderstorms of course). The little one *loves* the bike and has been known to cry when told that we need to take the car. If the girls are cold, they wear sweaters/jackets. If it’s hot, we just go slow so as to not overheat ourselves. My husband can also put his bike on the bus on those particularly hot summer days. Thankfully we have still not needed to buy a second car and we hardly use the car we have. The car gets about 150 miles/month while we get exercise, time with our family, and cost savings from having one car instead of two.

An added (and unexpected) benefit of all our cycling is the relationships and community that come from going a bit slower. We often see the same families biking to school. We chat and wave. We’ve added another child in our neighborhood to our “bike train” and gotten to know our neighbors better. I was riding my bike last week and someone called out to me and asked if I was Mary. I said yes and they said they recognized me from AURA. These sorts of interactions are hard to quantify, and definitely wouldn’t have happened if I were in a car.

With more options for walking, cycling, and transit, we can make Austin a more friendly, healthy, green, and affordable place.