Solutions to the Texas Water Crisis

Panel members are:  Tom Mason (former director of LCRA), Micheal Webber (UT), Laura Huffman (TX State Director – Nature Conservancy), Andrew Sansom (Ex. Dir. Texas River System Institute).

Ok, we do have a state water plan, so you can feel better right?  25% of our future water supply needs to come from conservation – great! But there is no plan, and no funding stream.  It might cost $53 million for that 25% alone.  So, what’s not to like?  It seems like we went about making this plan in an enlightened manner.  Read the Texas Water Plan as a first step to get all of the available information about Texas water. 

What not to like?  The solutions are all engineering dominated.  Build more reservoirs.  A huge problem is that we treat surface water (rivers and rain water) totally different from ground water (acquifers).  The idea that if we build it, we can solve it.  We also do not factor in carbon — CARBON FOLLOWS WATER.

Micheal talks about the WATER-ENERGY Nexus – a fascinating concept.  About 50% of our water goes into producing energy (30% of our national energy goes into boiling water for power plants).  12% goes into supplying the water, meaning 45% of the water goes into supplying the electricity to your house.  Those are national numbers.

Ms. Huffman makes it clear we cannot have the population growth we expect without ramping down the energy and water consumption dramatically.  If we don’t we will loose all of our bio-diversity and thus, the biomass.  The good part of the plan is that it addresses conservation, but there is still far too much reliance on silver bullet solutions.  For example, de-salination would result in 70-80% cost increases and our society rebels at the thought of 5% price increases.

We have now invested $800 million in watershed protection lands which is a globally recognized best practice.  Fortunately, these measures pass as local bonds every single time.  This is a great tool for water quality.

Regarding the quantity of water, we are not using rate structures to mainstream water conservation.  The concept is very much alive in electricity consumption, so why not water?

Mr. Sansom makes it clear that this is a private landholder problem.  No state has as great a rate of ancestral land fragmentation as fast as Texas.  That means selling off parcels of large pieces of land.

A great book to read is:  Collapse by Jared Diamond.  What happens when you cut the last tree.

Why is nobody talking about interstitial water? 

The TX Water plan is based on our knowledge of the worst drought of record (1950’s).  Could it get worse?  Based on tree ring analysis, the droughts of the 1950’s, we have seen just a warning sign of past droughts which lasted much longer.  We don’t now when the next drought will come, or how long it will last, but we now that we have had much greater droughts than the drought of record of the 1950s.  At a national level, look at the USGS website.

Historically, our strategy has been to move the people to the water instead of moving water to the people.  Right now, we are still considering what projects should win in the construction of new water infrastructure.  Shouldn’t we be having the conversation of how to optimize water use between cities, ag, industry and energy?  Instead, we have have this debate by a circular firing squad, but we have huge water losses within the system that could make everyone better off, if we focused on water efficiency and conservation first.

Texas Landowners own the water under their property as ruled by the Texas Supreme Court this year.  At the same time, we have given out more permits for surface water than exists in the river systems themselves.  We have sold the water more than 1x.  We must rely more on ground water, yet we just told Texas landowners that they own this critical water source.  The warning is that there are tremendous conflicts coming amongst people who believe that the water is theirs, but someone else has already sold the right to it to another entity downstream that has made plans/expectations of that water coming.  Sound messy?

Sorry, but I had to get a question in and so I have missed some great suggestions from the panelists.

Water stewerdship, better pricing, embracing the entertainment value of our rivers (canoeing, rowing, fishing). 

If you are watching the water issues on Twitter, look for the hash tags #txlege and #txwater  Those are the flags for lots of the debate happening during the upcoming legislative session.  Plug into this discussion and make it a priority. 

Wow, I just looked up and there is no room for people to stand or sit on the floors.   A packed room!

What about grey-water and residential re-use.  It is happening at a large scale with some of the city properties.   The WSJ recently had an article regarding the residential re-use opportunities. 

We are using a tremendous amount of water for out-door use – watering St. Augustine.  This becomes a big target.  Michael Webber states that he is using only 3,000 gallons per month.  That comes out to about 25 gallons/person/day residential consumption.  His front yard is mulch – no grass.

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