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“The Water of the Future will be Expensive Today”

posted November 26, 2014

In 1962, President John F. Kennedy boldly claimed, “If we could produce fresh water from salt water at a low cost, that would indeed be a great service to humanity, and would dwarf any other scientific accomplishment.” Today, as populations increase and water supplies are stretched, we are still hunting for ways to produce fresh water at a low cost. On November 6, 2014 in Austin, the Texas Water Development Board adopted rules needed to fully implement the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas, the $2 billion funding mechanism meant to provide low-cost loans for water projects in Texas.

On the same day, in San Antonio, members of the South Central Regional Planning Group (Region L) met to discuss, among other things, the projects in its regional plan. That regional plan, along with those of the other fifteen planning groups in the state will go into the State Water Plan. One such project is a joint effort between the Texas General Land Office, the University of Texas at San Antonio, the Guadalupe Basin River Authority (GBRA), and MWH Global to desalinate seawater. The project would provide fresh water for sale at the wholesale level within the GBRA service area in South and Central Texas.


The 2011 Texas Drought: its impacts and implications

by Behni Bolhassani

posted November 24, 2014

Drought and excessive heat are nothing new to Texans. These are, and will continue to be, facts of life in Texas. Fast growing urban areas intensify the impacts. In recent years, the severity and persistence of drought and heat has taken a toll on the Lone Star State. Current drought contingency plans are not enough to address the challenges and to initiate proper responses. The 2011 conditions reflected the failure of current management policies and emphasized the need for prudent reactions before the next inevitable drought.

The mismanagement during drought and extreme heat in 2011 resulted in: shortage of drinking water, devastating fires, and other environmental and economic losses in our state. Less water available for human use during drought caused prioritization of water consumption and therefore reduction in non-human uses such as land irrigation and even livestock watering. (more…)

Sharing Water in the Rio Grande

by Natalie Ballew, Benhi Bolhassani, Amelia Koplos, John Montgomery, and Michael O’Connor
posted November 17, 2014

The Rio Grande Basin has economic, cultural, and environmental values to communities throughout Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, and bordering Mexican states. The current agreements and structures in place to manage waters of the Rio Grande are failing to protect the values of all stakeholders dependent on the river. This brief analyzes the issues present in the current management and ownership structures and provides a recommendation to encourage a sustainable relationship with the Rio Grande Basin.


In 2001, the Rio Grande didn’t quite make it to the Gulf of Mexico for the first time. Source: texaslivingwaters.org

Water in the Rio Grande is shared between Mexico and the United States under a series of agreements, notably, the 1944 Water Treaty. Under this treaty, the United States gives water to Mexico from the Colorado River in exchange for water from the Rio Grande in five-year cycles. Water dedicated to the United States under the treaty is shared with New Mexico under the 1938 Rio Grande Compact—this is water in the upper portion of the Rio Grande Basin.


Direct Potable Reuse in Brownwood, Texas

by Gary Gold
posted November 5, 2014

Small oil boomtowns in Texas rarely make national news, let alone international headlines. Brownwood has an opportunity to become an exception. The city could become one of the first in the United States (along with Wichita Falls) to implement direct potable water reuse. Informally referred to as “toilet to tap”, direct potable reuse is a system where wastewater is treated to drinking water standards and sent directly through the drinking water system. Despite the “yuck” factor of the general public regarding reuse water, this system can provide drinking water that is just as safe to consume as traditional potable water. Direct potable reuse offers a sustainable water-supply option that is gaining popularity and could potentially quench the thirst of our growing population in Texas.

It’s no secret that Texas is strained for water resources. With populations skyrocketing at unprecedented rates, and water supplies strained by the effects of an ongoing drought, there is a need for innovative solutions to meet our water demand. Many municipalities are looking toward groundwater for the solution. But how long will those supplies last? Excessive pumping has already severely threatened groundwater supplies in many areas and with drought, their future is uncertain. A more sustainable solution to our increasingly thirsty population in Texas is to recycle our current supply using new technology that makes it possible to treat wastewater back to drinking water quality.


There are better options than the Vista Ridge Pipeline

by Gary Gold
posted November 5, 2014

When your glass of water is empty, its time to stick your straw in someone else’s glass, right? That seems to be the most recent water management strategy of the San Antonio Water Services (SAWS) board. On Monday, September 30th, the board unanimously approved a $3.4 billion plan to construct the Vista Ridge Pipeline, a project that will transfer up to 50,000 acre-feet of groundwater per year over 142 miles from the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer in Burleson County to San Antonio. As a statewide leader and innovator in water supply management, San Antonio water planners have taken a step in the wrong direction by approving the Vista Ridge Pipeline.

Up to this point, SAWS officials have been on the forefront of intelligent and innovative water planning in Texas. From storing water in underground aquifers in order to prevent evaporation, to desalinating otherwise unusable brackish groundwater, to offering rebates for water-efficient technologies, water planners in San Antonio have proven to be extremely shrewd in choosing management strategies. Unfortunately, the Vista Ridge Pipeline is a regression from this trend. The project is not only unreliable, but is also an unintelligently funded investment.


Joint Legislative Committee Tackles Water Desalination


Dan Hunter, right, of the Texas Institute for Applied Environmental Research at Tarleton State University, speaks to the Joint Interim Committee to Study Water Desalination Monday, June 30, 2014, during a meeting at the Kemp Center for the Arts in Wichita Falls, Texas. The committee and panels of experts gathered to find out more about brackish groundwater and water desalination and the possibilities as alternate water sources throughout Texas. (AP Photo/Wichita Falls Times Record News, Torin Halsey)

Dan Hunter, right, of the Texas Institute for Applied Environmental Research at Tarleton State University, speaks to the Joint Interim Committee to Study Water Desalination Monday, June 30, 2014, during a meeting at the Kemp Center for the Arts in Wichita Falls, Texas. (AP Photo/Wichita Falls Times Record News, Torin Halsey)

by Cicely Kay
posted October 27, 2014

Texans may soon have to turn to drinking recycled saltwater, brackish water, or maybe even wastewater from natural gas fracking. The current drought has forced the state to look into alternative water resources, including water reuse and conservation measures. One form of water reuse that has become more desirable to those working to solve Texas’ water shortage is desalination – the process of removing salt and impurities from water sources such as seawater and brackish water. While technologies are still being perfected to recycle oil, gas, and industrial wastewater for potable use, industry is currently capable of recycling their own wastewater for further use.  At the same time that Texas’ economy is booming due to the oil and gas industry, we have towns such as Wichita Falls dangerously close to running out of water. If we are to sustain our “Texas Miracle” we absolutely must ensure that we have water to supply to millions of Texans, and the businesses and industries that make our thriving economy so great.


Bois D’Arc Creek Reservoir: Water By Any Means Necessary

By Amelia Koplos
posted October 24, 2014

What does a squirrel do when their nut stash has been taken over by a larger predator? Easy: find more grub closer to home. That’s the strategy that North Texas Municipal Water District (NTMWD) seems to be playing these days. And if they can get through a few contested battles, the Bois D’Arc Creek Reservoir will be a stash great enough to make the Marvin Nichols Reservoir look like mere peanuts.

On Wednesday, the TCEQ approved hearing requests from multiple landowners who are directly in the way of the Bois D’Arc Creek Reservoir’s footprint. NTMWD falls within with the Region C water planning area, which happens to hold a hotbed of controversy within the state’s water plan. As part of a region which contributes the largest share of the state’s overall water consumption, NTMWD has jurisdiction over most counties in the Dallas metroplex. The Bois D’Arc Creek Reservoir proposal comes at a time during the metro area’s exponential growth and water consumption. While neighboring region D has argued against C’s Marvin Nichols Reservoir for its environmental and economic damage to the affected area, many of Region D’s workforce commutes to the metroplex daily. Along with this workforce undoubtedly comes water usage throughout the day. It almost seems unfair that the region gets so much backlash from reservoir proposals. Almost. Despite the seemingly obvious reasons for high municipal water demand, it’s estimated that 3 of every 4 gallons in the NTMWD residing counties are consumed through landscape and lawn maintenance. This troubling piece of news comes at a time when reservoirs haven’t proved to be the surest source of long-term water for the region. Three of NTMWD’s four other reservoirs are already dangerously low: Lavon Lake, at 46%, Tawakoni at 59% and Jim Chapman at the bottom with only 37.9% of its total.

With the reality of the water district’s fast disappearing supply, it seems that the last investment to make would be an additional reservoir. After all, such projects take many years to construct and rape, err, reap the benefits of usable water. Though the TCEQ approved landowners’ requests for deliberation by the Texas Office of Administrative Hearings, such a resolution could very well take years—time that a region doesn’t have, considering aforementioned water sources are increasingly unstable. Rather than use the state’s time and energy to uphold a reservoir that has already been approved, the TCEQ should make better use of its authority by requiring the region to invest the 300+ billion dollar funds to region-wide water conservation and efficiency programs. If the squirrel only knew how few nuts were left on the land.

Amelia Koplos is a second-year masters candidate at UT’s LBJ School of Public Affairs.

Drought, Legal Issues, and Aquifer Management

By Margaret Cook
posted October 24, 2014

For the past three years, most of Texas has been in the throes of a major drought. At the same time, the state’s economy has been booming and population rapidly increasing. The San Antonio area has been home to much of this economic and population growth as well as to the effects drought.

As the city and surrounding area’s main source of water, the Edwards Aquifer is a constant point of concern. The artesian aquifer has a relatively fast recharge rate but also a rapid discharge due to its geologic formation and high demands from water users—the aquifer is the sole drinking water source for over 1.7 million people in Central and South Texas. Demands were so high the low flows out of the aquifer into downstream springs threatened endangered species in the area. In 1993, under the threat of federal intervention, the Texas Legislature created the Edwards Aquifer Authority to protect the water resources in the Edwards Aquifer, maintain local control of that water, and still allow users in the area access to the water. The Edwards Aquifer Authority Act requires EAA to, among other things, issue permits on wells and limit withdrawals to 570,000 acre-feet—a difficult task considering, under Rule of Capture, Texas groundwater is property of the landowners.