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One Water in Action: Travis County Courthouse

By Jennifer Walker, National Wildlife Federation & Bill Moriarty

This summer, Travis County broke ground on the new Civil and Family Court Building. The 435,000 square foot facility is located at 1700 Guadalupe Street and sits on 1.46-acres.  It is located in the northern part of downtown which is rapidly being re-developed.

Travis County leadership realized early that construction of this new facility was a unique opportunity to deploy One Water strategies for the good of the community.  Commissioner Brigid Shea worked closely with the City of Austin’s Water Forward Task Force, Austin Water, and the County’s engineering team to develop a facility that will capture much of its water supply onsite thereby substantially reducing the need from Austin’s potable water supply. It was important to the Travis County Commissioners Court that the courthouse serve as an example of facilities that help reduce the burden on community water supply needs.

Groundbreaking on June 1, 2019

Photo from kxan.com

The courthouse is designed to capture and store rainfall and air conditioning condensate.  Captured water will be stored in tanks and then, with proper filtering and cleaning, will be used for non-potable purposes. The building will have two sets of plumbing to ensure separate management of potable and non-potable water.

One plumbing system will deliver water for non-potable uses, such as toilet flushing, irrigation and make-up water for the air conditioning system. The other plumbing system will continue to deliver high quality potable water to drinking water fountains and sinks. The facility will also capture stormwater and use rain gardens and other landscaping to hold and beneficially use water onsite.

The County is planning to connect to the City’s reclaimed water system once the line is extended to their location. It is expected that approximately 90 percent of the building water needs will be addressed by non-potable water (rainwater, condensate, stormwater and reclaimed water).

Innovative design elements for Travis County Civil and Family Courts Building include the following:

  • Low Flow Plumbing Fixtures – The plumbing fixtures in the building will be water conserving low flow equipment designed to minimize water use and maximize efficiency.
  • Reclaimed Water Use Ready – A reclaim water system is incorporated into the design of the building to be utilized for the flushing of all water closets and urinals once the service is available from the city.
  • Landscape Irrigation from Stormwater – The plaza storm drainage will be captured in holding tanks and repurposed to supplement the landscape irrigation needs.
  • Capture and Reuse HVAC Condensate – The condensate from the air handling units will be captured in a collection system and then repurposed for make-up water to be utilized for water features and cooling tower make up.
  • Rain Garden Irrigation from Stormwater – Rainwater from the building roof will be collected and piped to rain gardens on two sides of the building. The rain gardens will serve as holding/overflow cisterns to aide in the slowing of storm water outfall to the city’s stormwater system.

The courthouse will be a teaching facility as well.  The unique building components will be showcased and allow Austinites to see how these types of systems work.

The courthouse plan includes a community plaza, 25 courtrooms and many other facilities. The project includes “Great Streets” which focuses on walkability and public engagement. It includes 18-foot sidewalks, tree plantings, benches and bike racks and is accessible to people who walk, bike, drive and take the bus. Construction of the courthouse facility is scheduled for completion in the fourth quarter of 2022.


Co-Author: Bill Moriarty is the former Chair and current member of the City of Austin Water and Wastewater Commission and a member of the City of Austin Water Forward Task Force. 

Jennifer Walker

Senior Program Manager for Water Programs at National Wildlife Federation
Jennifer has 15 years experience focusing on water policy issues in Texas with an emphasis on water planning, water conservation and bay and estuary protection issues. She and her family like to camp near rivers where they can listen to the frogs sing at night.

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