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If Texas maintains its current rate of water use into 2060 without finding a way either to conserve significant amounts of water or to develop new sources, the state will experience a gap between demand and availability.
WATER WOES PANELISTS (from left) Greg Ellis, GM Ellis Lawfirm PC, Houston; Comer Tuck, Texas Water Development Board; Texas State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon; and Tom McLemore, project manager, Harlingen Irrigation District, discussed challenges of providing adequate water to a growing population during the recent Texas Produce Conference at San Antonio.
Costly water plan
Full implementation of the state’s water development plan will require $57 billion. The $2 billion allotted by the legislature from the Texas Rainy Day Fund will be “leveraged through sophisticated methods,” to achieve greater funding. Ellis expects disagreements over how money is allotted, with municipalities — primarily Houston, San Antonio and Dallas —competing with other smaller cities and rural Texas for water development funds.
“Rural Texas does not have enough money to develop water plans,” Ellis says, “so the state plan is designed to help cover rural water plans. We have to make sure not to take water from rural areas to support urban areas. That will lead to some conflicts.”
He expects lawsuits. He also insists that conservation will be a significant part of water plans. “Conservation will need to be part of the application for funding,” he says. Attention to maintaining rural water sources in plans to move water to municipalities will also be important.
The state funds are “loans, not grants,” he notes.
Other laws may be forthcoming, but face hurdles in the legislature. An aquifer storage and recovery bill, for instance, offered potential for areas across the state. “The bill passed in the House, but died in the Senate,” Ellis says. A similar fate befell a brackish groundwater development proposal.
A large supply of brackish water is available deep, but is expensive to obtain and treat. “I think we should allow groundwater districts to set different rules for capturing brackish water,” he says.
Other water law action includes changing the Water Development Board from six part-time board members to three-full time members, who would be appointed by the governor in an advise-and-consent with the state legislature. “We expect announcement of appointments at any time,” Ellis says.
McLemore talked about real-world application of conservation measures. “We have to find more efficient ways to use agriculture water,” he says. “We have to stretch our supplies.”
He’s been involved with the Texas Project for Water Efficiency and discussed ways to conserve water. The need is real, he says. “Citrus needs 48 inches of water a year. It needs water year-round, but the Lower Rio Grande Valley averages only 24 inches a year.”
Changing the way growers water citrus has helped, he says. Instead of flooding orchards on a flat plane, producers use water more efficiently if they put up beds that move water closer to the trees. “That means more water for tree roots.”
Various projects also use moisture monitors and telemetry to evaluate water supply, demand and needed application rates. “We need to know the amount of water taken up by citrus and the amount of water needed to irrigate,” he says. “We measure how much is depleted. If we don’t measure, we may apply too much or not enough. Reducing water costs improves the bottom line.”