Reports by the Lower Colorado River Authority show that water levels at lakes Travis and Buchanan, our region’s primary water supply reservoirs, are the highest they have been in some time.
Droughts across Texas are, for the large part, being alleviated. But that doesn’t mean we should forget the importance of water conservation, as global warming and growing cities (thus growing demand) continue to threaten our long term water future.
Today, being World Water Day, serves as an opportunity for contemplation on the current and future state of water availability for Texans.
There are mounting concerns about whether current water management strategies would meet the needs of all of Texas’ water user groups. All but one of the state’s sixteen water planning regions created a water management plan that could feasibly meet the future demands of their region. Projections made by the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) say that during future periods of severe drought water demands, spurred by a rise in Texas’s population, could increase by 3.2 million acre-feet per year in 2070, while under the same conditions water supplies are simultaneously projected to decline by 1.8 million acre-feet per year in 2070. (2020 is used as a baseline for both figures). In such conditions, Texans would face water shortages of 4.8 million acre-feet per year in 2020 and 8.9 million acre-feet per year in 2070.
But, if fully approved and implemented, the draft 2017 State Water Plan could significantly reduce water shortages, and nearly redress in full possible water shortages for a drought of record conditions in 2070. The Texas Water Development Board further found that without implementation of the plan Texas could lose upwards of $73 billion in 2020 and $151 billion in 2070.
The proposed 2017 State Water Plan is the first to include a significant share of capital costs to water conservation strategies, allocating $3.1 billion dollars, an increase of over $2 billion from the 2012 State Water Plan. This plan is also the first to incorporate Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) rules requiring adequate flow in river basins and bay systems to sustain the riparian ecology of those areas. Moreover, we agree with TWDB’s recommendation that the Legislature should protect more river and stream segments that have unique ecological value and present opportunities for environmental and water conservation.
Fortunately, some cities and counties are already taking steps to improve water conservation and reuse, including Austin’s proposed once per week watering schedule, Dallas’s voucher and rebate program for high-efficiency toilets and minor plumbing repairs, improvements to wastewater treatment centers with the help of TWDB that can facilitate water reuse, and rebates for rain catching cisterns.
Water management strategies that decrease water demand and increasing supply are obviously co-constitutive, but water conservation and reuse provides a unique and cost effective ways to engender increased water availability and quality, as well as, ecologically sound water use.