2021 began with a Texas-sized water crisis. In 2022, Texas needs solutions.

Last February, Texans got a terribly clear view of the fragility of their state’s water infrastructure, as a statewide freeze left millions of Texans without heat or electricity and almost half of the state’s population lost water.

This event provided a stark reminder of what’s at stake. The state’s 2022 water plan estimates that more than $80 billion in projects are needed to meet future water demands and build resilience across Texas.

Even this astronomical sum, however, fails to convey the magnitude of the challenge. To ensure a secure water future, officials at every level of government need to start investing in projects that protect all Texans, including those in growing urban centers and rural areas.

This requires planning and managing our water resources in an integrated way, investing in local groundwater management, and understanding the connections between groundwater and rivers, streams and springs. It also means understanding the long-term impacts that moving groundwater from rural areas to growing urban centers can have on the rural communities that will need this water in the future.

Despite previous inaction, lawmakers can make gains in 2022.

Last year, the state’s regular legislative session came and went without the passage of major water legislation or appropriations. Then in the fall, the Legislature reconvened with a generational opportunity to direct some of Texas’ billions of dollars in federal stimulus and economic recovery funding to water projects. Again, state lawmakers missed their chance.

Texas’ future should not be defined by this failure to act. Instead, lawmakers can make significant progress in 2022 by advancing multifaceted solutions Texas needs to secure a more resilient water supply.

Progress must start with an effort to chip away at the $80 billion in water infrastructure needs identified in the state water plan. Texas has an opportunity to make a significant down payment by taking advantage of the recent passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which will provide $2.9 billion to the state for water infrastructure.

Water leaks from damaged pipes caused by the severe winter storm in Texas in February 2021.

Aquifers are infrastructure, too.

However, Texas needs to craft a new approach to planning and resilience that goes beyond fixing aging plants and leaky pipes and relying on traditional water management strategies like reservoirs and groundwater export projects. The state needs to invest in protecting our groundwater resources beneath the surface, which are a critical form of natural infrastructure.

Rural communities across Texas depend on the groundwater in underground aquifers for their lives and livelihoods; groundwater is often their sole source of water. Aquifers are also the infrastructure that sustains rivers, streams and the water supply for millions of Texans across the state. Texans can’t see it, but nearly a third of the water in our rivers and streams starts underground, and for some rivers, 100% of the water originates as groundwater.

Yet most aquifers in Texas are being managed toward depletion, threatening the future of rural communities, wildlife and recreational interests who rely on groundwater-dependent rivers and streams, as well as the property rights of landowners.

Texas needs coordinated action to preserve groundwater.

Local groundwater conservation districts are the only entities in the state with the responsibility to both manage these vital groundwater resources and plan for their future. Despite this crucial role, groundwater conservation districts lack significant state support and resources for coordinated, data-driven planning essential to achieve resilience — unlike the state water and flood planning efforts in Texas.

It’s time for Texas to approach groundwater management more proactively, investing in the data and modeling that local groundwater conservation districts need to both manage groundwater and plan for its future availability. And it’s time to manage our water sustainably and holistically, recognizing that groundwater and surface water are connected as are the farms and ranches, landowners, rural communities, cities, streams, rivers and wildlife that all rely on this water.

We can’t afford to wait for another crisis to remind us of how fragile our water supplies are — we need action on water in 2022.

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One Comment

  1. ira yates
    Posted January 10, 2022 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    Vanessa,
    I am a fan of EDF and the work going on in the Permian Basin region. Your essay is important but does not propose an outline of necessary action required to broach the concern you have. This is my general comment for most everything I read. I seek actionable solutions so individuals can actually get behind a specific project. I have recently focused on produced water in the oil patch and have produced a white paper on the subject. I will send that to your email address.
    thanks
    Ira