General Plan 2020: Places and Spaces

General Plan Meeting 2, part 2: Environment

Meeting 2 was a Q&A session about citywide transportation and environmental issues with representatives of the City’s Transportation and Utilities departments.  Discussion about transportation issues was summarized in the previous entry. 

The topics of water conservation, stormwater management, and solid waste and recycling generated a great deal of lively discussion, summarized briefly below.   We encourage you to add your thoughts here on the blog.

Presentation materials and participants’ responses:

Water supply and conservation:

Utilities Director Michael Thane began by briefly describing Round Rock’s water history , and the time in 1978 when the city briefly ran out of water.  Since then it has been a challenge for supply to keep up with the area’s rapid growth. The main sources at this time are groundwater, Lake Georgetown, and shared facility to access water from Lake Travis that should be operational by 2012.  This still will not be quite enough to meet future peak water needs, which will have to be met through conservation measures. 

Earlier this year the City adopted a block water rate program to reduce consumption in peak demand periods.  From May to September, use over 18,000 gal/month will be priced at a higher rate.  The difference will be used to fund additional infrastructure, thus keeping overall water rates low (Round Rock’s water rates are already quite low compared to neighboring cities and MUDs).

He discussed expanding water re-use programs, in which water is treated and used for irrigation and other non-potable uses.  Currently the only facility using this system is the Forest Creek Golf Course.  It would be advantageous to build re-use systems into the development codes now, before the city is built out.

The Utility Department has recently recycled 55-gallon plastic drums for use as rain barrels, which are available for $25.  The department would like to offer more rebates, and has recently hired a conservation specialist.  Soon they will offer free irrigation audits.

There was a lot of discussion about other conservation measures that could be adopted, such as onsite gray water systems (in which water from showers, washing machines, etc. – but not toilets – is re-used for landscaping without further treatment), requiring drip water irrigation systems, and financial incentives to develop these systems for developers as well as households.  Several participants expressed frustration at Homeowners Associations that require (thirsty) St. Augustine grass, and then levy fines if it is allowed to get brown during the summer.

Solid waste and recycling:

Currently the City operates a recycling center where materials can be dropped off, and curbside pickup is available for a small fee.  Six months ago the Utilities Dept. completed a pilot study which collected both trash and recyclables from a sample of households once each week instead of collecting trash twice a week.  Results were very positive, and the department is looking at the relative costs of the program in light of recent changes in commodity and landfill prices.

The recycling program probably generated the most spirited discussion of the evening. Several participants had been part of the pilot study, and didn’t want it to end.  They had noticed that the volume of trash was greatly reduced.  Others wondered why the City does not currently recycle glass, and whether additional recyclables would be processed locally or be contracted to a facility in Austin or San Antonio.  Some noted that an extra trip to collect recyclables might not be environmentally beneficial if outweighed by diesel pollution, others replied that it would balance out if one trash collection trip were eliminated, and others asked why the trucks should burn diesel. 

Stormwater management:

Engineering & Development Services Director Danny Halden gave a slide presentation about the City’s Stormwater Master Plan.  Because of its size, the City must now meet the requirements of the Clean Water Act, and must enforce stricter stormwater management standards, outlined in the Master Plan.  We will need to develop an ordinance for erosion and sediment control, and one for illicit discharge.  We will also need to develop a regional stormwater management program and policy, and must review our development ordinances and processes.  These programs will require new funding sources – currently some regional management systems are supported through fees, but so far there has not been much will to create a stormwater utility.

The City participates in the National Flood Insurance Program, which requires cities to adopt minimum standards in order to allow residents to purchase flood insurance.  The City uses a higher standard than what is required, which considered future development.  He stressed that the floodplain is not a set boundary but a measure of risk, and bigger floods are always possible (especially in Central Texas), as Marble Falls experienced a few years ago.

Next:  The June 30 meeting will address community design, housing, historic preservation and neighborhood support.  There will be a wrap-up meeting on July 15


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