Hey Dallas, Don't Get Used to that Cheap Water

Categories: Development

highland park lawn.jpg
An exemplar of the sod-farming belt that cuts through Dallas.
We've had it good, no doubt about it. Ever since the drought of the '50s, when Dallas water planners set forth, constructing and acquiring the rights to reservoirs that would feed the city's growth for the coming decades, we haven't had to worry. Even as Lake Travis contracted to a muddy puddle in 2011, the driest year in Texas history, and small towns like Groesbeck grew desperate as the Navasota River withered, Dallas sat confidently, just east of the 100th meridian, where moist Gulf air supplies an ample network of pipelines and reservoirs.

That probably won't change anytime soon, says Ronald Kaiser, the chairman of Texas A&M's Water Project, dedicated to the production and distribution of potable water to rural Texas communities. There's always a "but," though. "The good news is Dallas is relatively drought-proof," he says. "The bad news is water is going to become more expensive."

How much more expensive -- 20, 30, 40 percent -- is difficult to divine. One thing, however, is certain as Dallas seeks to acquire water rights further east: The water will be pumped uphill. Sounds like a primitive problem, but think about -- all those pump stations, using all that electricity to sluice the water up a gradient over hundreds of miles.

"The transport cost of pumping that water uphill will be very expensive," Kaiser says. "Water is cheaper if it flows downhill to you. It's heavy; we're talking about 9 pounds a gallon."

We can stave this off, Kaiser says, and the most obvious answer is conservation. According to the Texas Water Development Board, Dallas is fifth in per capita water consumption in the state, due in no small part to our renowned affinity for sod farming. We can do it voluntarily, by, for example, ripping up those verdant beds of St. Augustine and planting native grasses and instituting permanent watering restrictions.

The only surefire way, Kaisers explains, is through rate increases. "The cheapest way to bring about conservation is pricing. But if you talk to any elected official, they're trying the educational route," he says. "Maybe you'll bring about a 3- to 5-percent drop, but they usually work short time and don't bring about fundamental change.

"Economists say, if you want to do it, increase the price of water." In other words, assign it a cost that reflects its essential value and the scarcity that is sure to come when water planners are forced to forage even further afield and when climate change induces even more violent swings in Texas' increasingly arid weather.


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16 comments
LDR4
LDR4

"...is difficult to divine" Wait, they are pumping divine water into Dallas? well, hot damn! It's about time! All that hair ain't trying to get closer to God for nothing. Next thing you know they are going to bring back GCB. Suck it, heathen suburbs! We drink that divine water in Dallas!

nammer
nammer

we should severely limit or stop lawn watering, or provide financial incentives to homeowners who xeriscape...the days of the very wealthy being able to use hundreds of thousands of gallons of water to water their lawns need to end.  

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

I thought I read or heard a story on KRLD  that water regulation may be switched over to the PUC so that rates can be controlled and massive rate hikes in a short time cant happen in a short time.  

girlnextdoor
girlnextdoor

Dallas,  If water is so scarce why in the world are we  talking about using millions of of gallons water to frack.  As far as I know there is no substitution for clean water.

d-may
d-may

People will fight for land, 

... but they will kill for water. 

MaxNoDifference
MaxNoDifference

I thought that water weighed 1 pound per 16 oz.  "A pint's a pound, the world around" is the ditty I grew up with and that is the measure used in baking.  At 9 pounds per gallon, Dallas must be buying heavy water.  No wonder it's expensive.

Montemalone
Montemalone topcommenter

Preston Hollow isn't gonna plow up the St Augustine, they'll just send Jose to Tom Thumb to pick up a few hundred cases of Evian and tell him to sprinkle by hand.

WylieH
WylieH

One of many odd things about the City of Dallas is the manner in which it administers Dallas Water Utilities (a city department that supplies water to both the City of Dallas as well as nearly a couple of dozen suburbs).

Under Mary Suhm, City of Dallas residents frequently pay much higher rates for City of Dallas water than our suburban neighbors and also are some of the only customers subject to mandatory watering restrictions. It's almost as if Suhm is saying to the citizens of Dallas "you need to conserve water so that our suburban neighbors can have plenty of the cheap stuff to water their lawns.

The citizens of Dallas get hammered respect to rates and restrictions while retaining all the operational risk and capital funding requirements associated with this major operation.  Like many things City of Dallas-related, it makes absolutely no sense.

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

Ummm .... DWU sells water at very low rates to various cities in the Metroplex.  Those cities in turn charge their customers less than what DWU charges me for water.

The main problem that I see as water demand goes up, is that certain water utilities ... ahem ahem North Texas Municipal Water District ... who have not planned for increasing their storage supplies will increasingly be staring at DWU looking for a way to grab DWU's water supplies.

It is not so much that water will become scarcer in the near future as it is that the demand for it will increase and approach or exceed the available supply.

Texas is a western state with eastern state water laws.

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@albert.finney000 T Boone is right. Smart and greedy rich folks like the Bush's have been gobbling up as much land surrounding fresh water sources as they can for decades, now, so that they can control and sell that precious resource. Google "Bush" and "Paraguay" and see how that family is securing their wealth for future generations of Bush's.

WylieH
WylieH

@ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul You're exactly right.  As a matter of fact one of the suburbs which taps into both the North Texas Municipal Water District as well as Dallas Water Utilities has adopted a formal policy of trying to shift as much of its usage to Dallas Water Utilities as possible.  Why?  Simple answer:  Dallas Water Utilities charges the suburbs a cheap rate for water.

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@albert.finney000 Good, fresh, clean water makes the finest beer.

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