Who cares about water in Texas?

By Mike Barnett

So who cares about water in Texas? Farmers and ranchers, obviously. The rest of the state? Not so much.

At least that’s the conclusion faculty members at the University of Texas made after examining public opinion polls of issues that matter most to Texans.

The economy, immigration and education are top of mind for most. Yet water—that life-giving resource—registers as a top issue with only 4 percent.

That’s a real concern.

Rural Texans understand burn bans, dry wells and short pastures. Drought is not a word. It is a reality they live with every day.

For most urban Texans, water is something that comes out of the tap. Every time. There’s plenty to keep the lawn green. There’s plenty to keep the pool brimming. Urban areas are an oasis in a sea of Texas brown. And that’s a dangerous mirage for our future.

How long this lack of concern continues is a $53 billion question.

That’s the amount the Texas Water Development Board estimates it will take to fund the State Water Plan, a roadmap to meet the needs of a booming Texas population for the next 50 years.

Fortunately, the Texas legislature is paying attention, and both Texas House and Senate leadership has expressed the need this session to kick start the plan with revenue from the Rainy Day Fund.

And that’s good. But there’s also a danger. Agriculture—with a stellar record of improving efficiency and conservation and doing much more with less over the last two decades—is still the top water user in the state.

And as water gets more expensive and sources disappear, a clamor could arise to take agriculture’s water—drying up livelihoods, a rich agriculture heritage and ultimately, the food supply.

That’s why water needs to be a top concern of all Texans. Conservation and planning for future water needs is a conversation all Texans need to be engaged in now.

Waiting until the tap runs dry is far too late.

Mike Barnett

Director of Publications
Texas Farm Bureau
I’m a firm believer that farmers and ranchers will continue to meet the needs of a growing world population by employing equal measures of common sense, conservation and technology.
Follow Mike on Twitter and Facebook.

6 Responses to “Who cares about water in Texas?”

  1. John Thorson says:

    Mike,
    I agree with your comments but it isn’t just throwing money at the problem. The state legislature needs to stop the intentional threats to our water supply. A company called Post Oak Clean Green ( now that’s a joke if there ever was one ) , is proposing a 100 million ton industrial and municipal land fill in eastern Guadalupe county. The site sits right on top of the Carizzo-Wilcox Reservoir recharge zone. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency the current technology used in lining landfills will absolutely leak , its just a matter of when , 10,50,or 100 years. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality ( another bad joke ) is in the process of approving the site and say that it will be approved. Every local politician that has supported the landfill has been voted out of office. Every quasi-government entity , both local and state , that has looked into the proposal has publically come out in opposition to it, except the TCEQ. Lobbyists and non-local politicians are pushing it thru because of the money being spread around by the landfill’s owners. Stopping this proposed landfill would cost nothing , except the loss of campaign contributions , and would insure a long term water resource for 60 counties in central Texas.

  2. Billy B. Brown says:

    I was surprised initially by the poll of only 4 percent of Texans have concern about Texas’ future water needs. But as you point out, a tap turn or a flush, is as involved some become with the prized resource. One would think casual news observance would inform but we have seen that not work in other areas and topics as well. As usual, an interested and involved few will saddle the horse and ride the river to get the job done.

  3. Phyllis Dyer says:

    Why not take that rainy day fund and set up a couple desalinization plants on the Texas coast? Then pipe water wherever we need it or just pump it into some aquifers that need recharging. With ‘global warming’ and the rise of the oceans why not use that to our benefit? Process the salt and sell it as sea salt- why should Arab countries get all the sea salt business?

    • I like that kind of “out of the box” thinking Phyllis. I bet that what you described would be pretty expensive, probably more than the rainy day fund can manage, but then, I’m just guessing on that. The rainy day fund will likely be tapped to pay for at least part of the state water plan. Thanks for the constructive comment.

  4. I don’t have an answer to Texas problem of diminishing water supplies. What does need to happen is educate those who don’t seem to care now. We in rural Texas who face and experience the effects of the drought and limited water supplies to our crops and livestock, appreciate the seriousness of it. If those who never have to worry about their grass dying or having to sell their family pet for lack of food or water, why should they care about Texas’ water? But the urban dwellers will care someday when the economy of the state is in the gutter because agriculture in the state has failed, and they have to pay an outrageous premium for the water they use or for heaven’s sake, aren’t allowed to water their yards.
    The Texans who don’t care now, will not care about water until they are staring at the bottom of the barrel. That’s the way of it now, water comes from the faucet, steaks and eggs come from the grocery. We need to do something about that.

  5. While yes we need “city slickers” to care about water, it would be good to write an article about the reality of the water condition and what can be done about it. A large reason we are having issues with our rivers and lakes in central Texas is because of the lack of self regulation amongst Agg users and that joke of organization the TCEQ. Most people without water rights probably do not know that water rights holders can pump as much as they want. For example, a large reason the rice farmers below the austin chain of lakes cannot get water is because the vineyards, hay fields, pecan orchards, etc in Menard County pump the San Saba river dry on any year but years when we get well above average rainfall. Clearly above average rainfall does not happen that often. Basically, politicians and government employees like Carolyn Runge and Harvey Hildebrand who oppose water rights holders pumping the amount that their water rights allow for are causing ripple effects that are leading to the rice farmers troubles, not to mention the dwindling sea trout population in the gulf down in large part to the lack of freshwater feeding the bay. This of course leads to other issues, like in many areas the government has handed out so many water rights they actually exceed the amount of water in the river. If you look at the Concho River, through all the drought the river remained flowing because they had a watermaster that made sure a minimum flow remained in the river. Here is the deal, I wish it was the good ole’ days and we could just do whatever we want as landowners, but the reality of the situation is that is not the case and because our state is the best state in the union, we have Californians and Yankees coming in droves and something has to give. I hope the legislature takes this serious and educates everyone, both urbanites and agricultural users. While urbanites may miss the importance of water, I think many agg users don’t understand that their actions affect other agg users and urbanites downstream and need to think about both their ranch/farm and what is a sustainable water use practice if we really are in a 15 to 100 year drought as the experts say. Thank you for your article and any light being shown on our water situation is a good one.

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