By Mike Barnett
Mind boggling. The need for water in Texas carries huge numbers and even bigger implications if we do nothing.
I spent a day at a seminar on the Texas Water Plan, the plan that guides us to meet our 50-year water needs during a repeat drought of record. Some of you old-timers might remember that ’50s drought well. It was devastating. The drought last year brought home the fact that water is a precious resource in Texas, and if we are going to meet the needs of agriculture, municipalities, industry and a growing population, we better get to work.
According to Carolyn Britten, deputy executive director of the Texas Water Development Board, Texas needs about 8.9 million acre-feet of water to meet its 50-year needs. If another drought of record were to hit this decade, Texas would be 3.6 million acre-feet short. That would make for a lot of thirsty folks.
The price tag is $53 billion in the 50-year plan to develop water supplies and get that water to our cities or water utilities. Look at the aging infrastructure of our water systems, wastewater collection and treatment, flood control and other needs, and that price tag soars to $231 billion.
Water in Texas is a local and regional responsibility. Local entities look to the state, however, to assist in funding. They are asking for help with attractive financing so their current rate payers won’t be overwhelmed.
So where will this new water supply come from? One quarter of the plan is conservation of our existing water supplies: agriculture, household and landscapes. Add another 10 percent for reuse of our existing supplies. Other possible strategies include expanding groundwater well fields, transferring surface water rights between owners of water rights and by contract, building new reservoirs, seawater desalination and aquifer storage and recovery.
Demand for water will skyrocket 22 percent from now until 2060 as our population continues to grow.
The implications are huge for not meeting that demand. If we do nothing, Britten said, the state could suffer annual losses of $116 billion by 2060 in state and local taxes. It could lose an additional $10 billion a year by 2060 in business taxes. Job loss between now and 2060 would be about a million jobs and 1.4 million in lost population.
Planning is important, Britten said, but implementing is critical.
What if we turned on our taps, she asked, and no water was there?