Estimates do not Meet Reality, Time to Improve Texas Water Planning

By: Richard Lowerre, Attorney with Frederick, Perales, Allmon & Rockwell

Source: StateImpact Texas

Source: StateImpact Texas

Recently, the Texas Center for Policy Studies (TCPS) issued its report examining Texas’ current water planning process. Founded in 1982, TCPS has pursed its theme of "Research for Community Action" by developing policy recommendations for sustainable growth and development in Texas.

Water has been a major topic for this work, and the current drought highlights the need for an effective state water planning process. TCPS’s report, however, finds fault with many aspects of the current planning process.

Overall, the report concludes that the projected need for water in 2060, according to the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB), is more than twice the amount that should be needed. As a result, the 2012 State Water Plan, developed by TWDB, recommends spending many billions of dollars on new reservoirs and other water projects that can be avoided.

TCPS researchers are critical of TWDB's failure to manage the sixteen regional planning groups in the state that develop the underlying regional water plans. As a result, many of the regional plans greatly overestimate their future water needs too. The TCPS report highlights a number of problems with the role TWDB has taken and its failure to use its authority under Texas law to assure the type of regional plans needed to guide state funding for future water projects.

For this reason, TCPS’s report lays out a number of recommendations that could be implemented by the newly reformed TWDB to address these problems. A look at water use for the electric sector underlines some of these problems.

Ignoring expert advice

In 2008, TWDB asked the Bureau of Economic Geology (BEG) for estimates of future water use for coal, natural gas, and nuclear power plants by regions and the state. The resulting BEG report explained that a significant error in an industry report led to higher projections of future water needs in the 2006 regional plans. Despite this fact, most of the planning groups still chose to use the flawed 2006 projections in their 2011 regional plans. TWDB did not require the use of the BEG figures or justify the rejection of BEG's advice to use the accurate figures.

Ignoring actual use

Additionally, TWDB allowed the regional planning groups to start their projections for the 2011 plans with figures from 2010 which were much higher than actual use by power plants in 2010. Power plants in Texas used only 60 percent of the water in 2010 that the 2011 plans claim. As the figure below shows, the projections for water use by power plants are much higher than they should be.

Historical (actual) and projected water demands for power plants  in the last two State Water Plans (SWP)

Historical (actual) and projected water demands for power plants
in the last two State Water Plans (SWP)

Wish lists in regional planning

Finally, TCPS confirmed that some regional planning groups simply over-project demands for water, apparently because they hope to obtain state funding for more water projects and as a way to compete with other regions for new power plants and other industries facilities. For example, the 2011 regional plan for Region G, which runs along the Brazos River from Abilene to Bryan-College Station, included a proposal to build a new lake. The lake was justified as the source of water for a proposed coal power plant. The regional planning group claimed that the power plant would need 20,000 acre-feet of water – ten times the amount the plant actually needed. To help put this in perspective, an acre-foot is the amount of water it would take to cover an acre of land with a depth of one foot. In this instance, the excess 18,000 acre-feet of water for the lake is enough to supply eight to ten new natural gas power plants, or the equivalent to about 900 Olympic-size swimming pools.

Conclusion

The inflated water projections for power plants in the 2012 State Water Plan provide good examples of the failures on the part of TWDB to assure that Texas has a sound basis for funding new water projects in the future. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. TCPS report highlights comparable problems in the State Water Plan when evaluating the needs of other water users, such as agriculture and cities.

The recommendations in the TCPS report, if adopted by TWDB, would assure a better balance of state and regional interests, as well as smarter planning process for Texas to address the current multi-year drought and water security in the future.

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