When 16 regional water concerns were voiced in a series of meetings last year, the basis of the State’s Water Plan was made known to the Texas Water Development Board, which subsequently adopted a Water Plan that included some 26 high priority projects, most of them involving the construction of surface water reservoirs. Rounding out the list were a few groundwater and desalination projects.

While catching and storing water in reservoirs is one way to increase the state’s water capacity in the future, it comes with a price tag that goes beyond dollars and cents. Evaporation, water quality concerns and climate considerations surfaced as well as possible objections to the plan, one that seems to take a lot of the bang out of the buck. When environmental groups reviewed the short list of water projects proposed under the state’s first water plan, they found it short on conservation efforts, a measure they claim would be the best strategy of all, an effort that would conserve as much water as new water projects would provide. Conservation efforts, they claim, are much cheaper to implement as well.

In addition, most water projects adopted as part of a list of the high priority projects in the state water plan are for the direct benefit of cities and urban areas and would provide little help to agriculture or industry. In fact, the most expensive project on the list calls for $1.8 billion to construct a pipeline to South Texas for municipal water use in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. The second priciest project on the list involves a $700 million-plus plan to buy irrigation water from South Texas for municipal use in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, mostly to facilitate landscape irrigation.

The Texas Water Development Board confirmed that some households in the Fort Worth area have provided irrigation of landscaped yards through the winter months in spite of the drought. In 2011, the state’s driest year on record, much of Fort Worth’s public water, estimated 45 percent, went to landscape watering. By contrast, the City of San Antonio estimated 25 percent of public water was used for watering and landscape purposes for the same period.

The overall accumulated funding needed to support the 26 projects is estimated to be about $8 billion.

Farmers and ranchers across Texas say so far there has been very little consideration for substantial relief for agriculture under the state water plan. The best solid plan so far (SB 22) has been offered by State Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, Chair of the Natural Resources Committee, who wants 10 percent of the fund to go toward conservation and another ten percent to be directed toward rural areas.

State Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, said he wanted to prioritize funds to those agencies who are using water wisely.

“We want to make sure that projects we are going to fund use this money on maximizing conservation efforts,” Larson said. “If not, then why would we fund them?”

“Conservation is the most environmentally responsible path towards meeting our future water needs, [and] often the cheapest,” Luke Metzger, the director of Environment Texas, emailed in a statement last week. “The Texas Water Development Board should make sure we exhaust our potential to save water and set aside at least half of funding for conservation and re-use programs, reducing water loss, and to purchase water rights to guarantee we leave enough water in our rivers to protect wildlife and recreation.”