There is a water crisis in Texas. Texas has more than enough water. Both statements are technically true. How can that be? The answer depends largely on where you live in the state and how you use the water.
These topics were the center point of a panel discussion recently co-sponsored by KUT radio and Texas Monthly magazine. The event was held in the auditorium of the LBJ Library on the University of Texas campus. As an illustration of the level of public interest in this issue, the event had to be moved to a larger room as the result of the overwhelming response for seats. The presentation was coordinated with the July issue of Texas Monthly and a one hour radio show on KUT.
The discussion was moderated by Nate Blakeslee, Senior Editor at Texas Monthly, and the panelists were:
- Kip Averitt: former state legislator and founder of Averitt & Associates consulting firm
- Laura Huffman: State Director of The Nature Conservancy
- Robert R. Puente: President/CEO of San Antonio Water System
- Andrew Sansom: Executive Director of the River Systems Institute at Texas State
- Todd Staples: Texas Commissioner of Agriculture
The wide variety of experience that the panelists brought to this forum contributed to a lively and disparate discussion that did yield one common and basic solution…conservation of our water resources. One of the most profound statements of the evening came from Mr. Sansom. He simply said “Conservation is a source of water” and that the common public perception of conservation as a “limiting” process needs to be rethought. San Antonio is one of the best examples in the entire country of convincing their customers to use “less product” for the good of all. As a result, despite rapid population increases, the city is using the same amount of water as it did 25 years ago.
Without going into intricate detail, the discussion led to the following thoughts, concepts and conclusions:
- East Texas has a ready supply of water but transporting it to drier areas is next to impossible due to legal restraints and rules regarding inter-basin transfers.
- Agriculture accounts for about 60% of water use in the state and a lot is lost to evaporation, etc. How do we limit the losses but still provide enough for farms and agribusinesses?
- Surface water and groundwater are considered separate entities and are controlled by completely different rules and governmental agencies. Surface water is owned and regulated by the state while groundwater is managed by local groundwater districts. It was agreed that changes need to be made to this antiquated system and to, ideally, treat both sources of water in a coordinated manner.
- There are too many competing authorities managing singular sources of water with little to no cooperation between them. For example, the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer is managed by 21 separate water districts. Who owns what and how do you decide who gets what? Currently, the San Antonio Water System is involved in legal disputes concerning the Edwards Aquifer.
- Most of our land in Texas is privately owned and those property owners have a wide range of rights concerning the water that exists on their land. How do you convince those folks to give up those rights for the good of many and where do you find the money to compensate them? What is the value of the water?
- The environmental flows into Texas bays are diminishing and in danger of depletion. As more and more water is removed from rivers upstream, less fresh water flows into the estuaries where lower salinity levels are vital to species such as the whooping crane. There is more water allocated from our rivers than there is actually available. This has dire consequences downstream.
- Businesses are hesitant to relocate to Texas if the availability of water is an issue.
At this point in time it seems there are more problems than solutions. As our population continues to increase and puts added pressure on our water resources, we need to develop and pursue viable solutions. One area that holds promise is the desalination process which turns brackish water into fresh. Although it can be expensive to build the plants that carry out this transformation, it may be well worth the cost considering the fact that there is an ample supply of brackish water here in Texas. This leads to the crux of the matter. The state water plan, developed by the Texas Water Development Board, is one of the best in the nation in regards to ideas to alleviate our water problems but offers no funding for the necessary projects. All of the panelists, with the exception of Mr. Staples, were adamant about the need for a dependable revenue stream to pay for these projects.
In conclusion, there are overwhelming negative consequences if we fail to take steps towards solving our water crisis here in Texas. Solutions are available but we need to overcome parochial allocation systems, political posturing and uncoordinated management. We must understand and communicate the value of water to those who use this resource.