Austin and other Central Texas cities are using about 20 percent less water from the Colorado River despite the region's explosive population growth, according to a newspaper's review of water data.
Officials at the height of the drought in 2011 began telling residents in Austin, Cedar Park, Pflugerville and elsewhere to reduce the amount of water they used. The calls for conservation were seen as relatively mild, as most communities still allow lawns to be watered at least once a week.
New programs also have contributed to the drop in consumption, such as encouraging the planting of drought-tolerant landscapes and free audits of lawn-irrigation systems, according to Austin Water Utility chief Greg Meszaros.
"The community has grown sensitized to drought," he told the Austin American-Statesman.
An analysis of Lower Colorado River Authority data shows per capita water use by Austin residents has dropped from about 170 gallons a day to 130. In Cedar Park, per capita use has slid from 252 gallons a day to 170 gallons.
The more comprehensive conservations gets, such as repairing leaks along city water mains, the more expensive it becomes, said Jennifer Walker, water resources coordinator for the Texas office of the Sierra Club.
"But that still costs less than bringing in water from other locations," she said. "Conservation is an important tool to stretch supplies. We need to assess how much water we really need to use for our landscape and embrace things that really work. It only helps the whole region if we can use water more efficiently, save customers money and let businesses know we're being super-pro-active about water supply issues."
Efforts to conserve have brought drawbacks, too. Utilities have seen a drop in revenue because they're not collecting as much in water-use fees, complicating their ability to cover costs.
The drop in water use comes as a report earlier this month by the Office of the State Demographer found that the state's population will double by 2050 if migration into Texas continues at the same rate that it did in the last decade. Austin has set the pace for the state -- its population grew 37 percent in the decade ending in 2010.