Commentary: Water in Texas: The task is daunting

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Editor's note: The following commentary was written by Mike Barnett, Director of Publications at the Texas Farm Bureau and was originally published on the Texas Agriculture Talks website.

Mind boggling. The need for water in Texas carries huge numbers and even bigger implications if we do nothing.

I spent a day at a seminar on the Texas Water Plan, the plan that guides us to meet our 50-year water needs during a repeat drought of record. Some of you old-timers might remember that ’50s drought well. It was devastating. The drought last year brought home the fact that water is a precious resource in Texas, and if we are going to meet the needs of agriculture, municipalities, industry and a growing population, we better get to work.

According to Carolyn Britten, deputy executive director of the Texas Water Development Board, Texas needs about 8.9 million acre-feet of water to meet its 50-year needs. If another drought of record were to hit this decade, Texas would be 3.6 million acre-feet short. That would make for a lot of thirsty folks.

The price tag is $53 billion in the 50-year plan to develop water supplies and get that water to our cities or water utilities. Look at the aging infrastructure of our water systems, wastewater collection and treatment, flood control and other needs, and that price tag soars to $231 billion.

That’s daunting.

Water in Texas is a local and regional responsibility. Local entities look to the state, however, to assist in funding. They are asking for help with attractive financing so their current rate payers won’t be overwhelmed.

So, where will this new water supply come from? One quarter of the plan is conservation of our existing water supplies: agriculture, household and landscapes. Add another 10 percent for reuse of our existing supplies. Other possible strategies include expanding groundwater well fields, transferring surface water rights between owners of water rights and by contract, building new reservoirs, seawater desalination and aquifer storage and recovery.

Demand for water will skyrocket 22 percent from now until 2060 as our population continues to grow.

The implications are huge for not meeting that demand. If we do nothing, Britten said, the state could suffer annual losses of $116 billion by 2060 in state and local taxes. It could lose an additional $10 billion a year by 2060 in business taxes. Job loss between now and 2060 would be about a million jobs and 1.4 million in lost population.

Planning is important, Britten said, but implementing is critical.

What if we turned on our taps, she asked, and no water was there?

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usa  |  November, 07, 2012 at 11:32 AM

How will we rise to deal with our water problems? The same way we are now, by continuing to have faith in our capitalistic system that has always dealt with such problems. Challenge the false dilemma that the chicken littles pose to us. How do we know that the individualism of the American Revolution will work again? Because it always has. It never failed us. Nationalizing private property is a proven failure and the road to ruin.

Jim Sturrock    
NE Colo  |  November, 08, 2012 at 10:06 AM

James, what in the world is your soap box platform's objective?

KY  |  November, 08, 2012 at 11:06 AM

Every action has consequence. If you are ready for a radical look at how we can respond to natural disasters through natural means, look up the article "How Forests Attract Rain: An Examination of a New Hypothesis" published in BioScience 59, by Douglas Sheil and Daniel Murdiyarso. 2009. Their hypothesis? Basically it is that, if human beings can turn forests into deserts by deforestation, we can likewise turn deserts into forests through reforestation of coastal areas and river deltas. Imagine the long-term benefits if we could return the water cycle, especially in areas like Texas with large areas of coastline, to a more hospitable state. As a nation, we might try diverting some of the money we have spent on campaigns like "Shock&Awe" in recent decades to fund service in an organization like the CCC, which reforested vast areas of the southeast during the Dust Bowl era. Unfortunately, we seem to have forgotten the lessons we learned during and after the Dust Bowl about soil conservation, working with nature, and humility in the face of disasters, among other things. Now I hear that we are going to try "climate engineering." We have already engineered climate change, including major droughts, unfortunately, by changing the landscape, the atmosphere and the hydrosphere through a multitude of human activities, including overpopulation, industrial manufacturing, and more and more airline flights. And we continue to have naysayers who adamantly insist that people can continue to do anything we want to do without affecting the climate or the weather.

Mark McPherson    
Dallas  |  November, 14, 2012 at 02:28 PM

The problem is more daunting because water infrastructure takes a long time to build, i.e. implement. This is why the state water planning period always runs 50 years. For example, it takes 35+ years to build a new reservoir. By the time we really "feel" a water supply problem, perhaps enough to spur genuine responsive action, we'll already be in a world of hurt. The state water plan is a great vision, but it must be implemented now to avoid pain in 2040. The only way Texas can really afford it is to elevate its priority over the so-called 'social safety net' expenses. Same goes for energy infrastructure. Mark McPherson McPherson LawFirm, PC Dallas, TX @enviropinions

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