State Water Planners are Giving Lip Service to Conservation. Environmental Groups Want Them to Do More.

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One of the few areas of bipartisan agreement in Austin this legislative season is that the state needs to take major steps to meet the state's long-term water needs. The arithmetic -- exploding population + historic drought + increasingly stressed water supply -- is simply too stark to ignore. The momentum right now is behind proposals to set aside $2 billion from the state's Rainy Day Fund to pay for future water projects.

The consensus starts to break down when it comes to how much of Texas' water needs will be met through conservation. The state's recently updated water plan, which forecasts usage and supply over the next half century, is actually mildly ambitious on that front, calling for reductions in water usage to account for 24 percent of needed water supplies. Another 10 percent would come from recycled water.

That's the plan, anyway, but when it comes to what state water planners actually plan on funding, conservation barely registers.

Earlier this week, The Associated Press published the Texas Water Development Board's prioritized wish list of $8.3 billion in water projects.

In North Texas, the list includes $2.3 billion in pipeline projects to bring water from existing reservoirs to the city of Dallas and the Tarrant Regional Water District, $901.5 million for two new reservoirs, and a measly $1.2 million for conservation efforts. Statewide, the conservation plans are more substantial, but only slightly, totaling just 3.3 percent of the wish list.

That, says Environment Texas director Luke Metzger, is ridiculous.

The list of priorities proves that the state is "just giving lip service to conservation," Metzger said. Water planners are apparently stuck in the outdated paradigm that meeting water needs requires building lots of dams and reservoirs when in fact it's cheaper, easier and better for the environment to simply not use the water in the first place.

There's a laundry list of conservation measures that Metzger suggests would be a better use of cash. In cities, there could be sprinkler system audits, repair of leaking water pipes, turf replacement programs to swap thirsty St. Augustine for native grasses, regulations on water usage of commercial washing machines, and so on. There are also huge potential savings in agriculture (irrigation improvements, lined irrigation ditches, metering improvements) and the energy industry (more water-efficient power plants and the recycling of frack water).

Environment Texas will be releasing a report later this month on what portion of the state's future water needs can be met through conservation, but here's a hint: It's a lot more than the 24 percent the water plan calls for.

For now, Metzger says he's getting behind a pair of bills introduced yesterday by Senator Jose Rodriguez of El Paso that would require that a third of state water plan funding go toward conservation.

That's less than the 50-percent figure Environment Texas would prefer, but it's still probably a bit optimistic. The legislative momentum is behind bills filed in the Senate by Troy Fraser and in the House by Alan Ritter. Those would set aside 10 percent and 20 percent for conservation, respectively, both of which are a lot less than half.


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8 comments
duanewmurphy
duanewmurphy

@scottindallas The way I understand, the last 3 rulings 2009,2010,2011, Texas has lost on all appeals. As of January 7th, the U.S. Supreme court took the case to decide if Texas can use the interstate commerce laws as a last ditch effort; they should rule later this year. All of the Kiamichi basin water falls under Choctaw and Chickasaw Indian nations, which are sovereign nations; therefore they own the  natural resource of water. There are very few remaining places that North Texas can viably build reservoirs. Out of the 16 purposed new reservoirs, the most likely to come to fruition are the Lower Bois d Arc, Marvin Nichols, and Ralph Hall. Due the the seizure laws of imminent domain and the sparsely populated area, my bet is on North East Texas over Oklahoma 3-6.

http://www.texaswatermatters.org/projects/save/SWRM2_2007-SWP-damsA.jpg  

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

Eric, I think the weakness in your appeal for ever more conservation dollars is not really understanding that few of those policies require money.  Legislation can press for many of these changes, many don't cost anything, most will save the individual consumers money.  Fines, or excess usage charges can encourage some of the other programs you'd like.  And, these levies can be returned to the conservation pot.  There's reasons for individual water providers to press for conservation, so, I wonder if the state should be searching for conservation projects, when land acquisition and new lakes are so vital, particularly around the Hill Country, (SA and Austin)  San Antonio has zero resevoirs and relies wholly on the Edwards Aquifer, the source of the river in the photo above, Barton Springs, most of the Guadalupe's flow, and a dozen other rivers. 

kergo1spaceship
kergo1spaceship

This is one of the biggest infrastructure concerns moving forward, even dwarfing road building, aging bridges, and lack of a workable power grid. This area is in a real transitional zone as far as landscaping is concerned; do we go full scale Southwest, and limit water utilizing limited water, conserve as a state, or go "full boar" and just water away?  People in this area water way too much, and our clear path to saving water is to let folks water once or twice a week, and never in winter. I am considering going with a Southwest style yard, instead of the toil of keeping everything green in 110 degree heat. 

duanewmurphy
duanewmurphy

@scottindallas To clarify, North Texas will have to build the reservoirs before they get water from Oklahoma. The Supreme court will rule in Favor of Oklahoma 6-3.

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

@kergo1spaceship I can't speak for the Suburbs, but in Dallas, where you see St Augustine, there are no other shade loving alternative grasses, St Aug. is the most shade tolerant.  A Southwest Landscape is a bit extreme for Dallas, we're the Blackland Prairie.  Though I use many "Southwestern" plants, I focus more on TX natives.  There is some overlap, but we don't have to be so extreme.  No one waters now more than twice a week, and I'm sorry to tell you, sometimes supplemental watering is very helpful if not essential in many winters.  Not more than once a week, but we can go a month without any real precip.  Your spirit is in the right place, but we don't need to be so draconian. 

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

@darrd2010 There's a new resevoir planned for Northern OK.  North Texas long ago contracted for those rights.  The matter is working it's way through the OK lege, which resents the matter, but we contracted with Native Americans, OK only has to agree to terms for the water purchase--though the strictures are limited by the original contract.  There are a few other lakes planned for East Texas as well. 

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

@duanewmurphy @scottindallas as understand it from an atty very close to the case, the Supreme Court's taking up the case bodes well for Texas' case.  OK already took federal money for this project, which was given under the pretense that this was a Regional/Interstate program.  OK has been balking, and the Supremes taking up the case is seen as finally forcing OK to get their ass in gear.  The contracts have be supported by the lower courts and the real issue is OK hates Texas more than it likes money.

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