Texas Water Solutions

We're Back — But We've Moved

Thanks for visiting the blog.  We have moved to a new location.  We are now housed on the Texas Living Waters website. Please come visit, SUBSCRIBE to the new blog and join in the conversation.  There is a lot going on in Texas water and we'll be talking about all of it.

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Whooping Cranes Are Important Sentinel of Texas Heritage

By guest author Myron Hess, Texas Water Programs Manager for the National Wildlife Federation.

The recent federal court opinion holding the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) accountable for the deaths of 23 whooping cranes because of inadequate freshwater inflows to San Antonio Bay has generated a lot of concern and discussion. Much of the heated rhetoric, especially about a feared federal take-over of water rights, is misplaced. As illustrated by the recent success of stakeholders in the San Antonio area in coming up with an agreed management approach for the Edwards Aquifer, the Endangered Species Act can provide the impetus for good local decisions without dictating the details.

However, there is genuine cause for concern about what the underlying facts say about the state of water management in Texas.

Our precious Texas bays and estuaries are increasingly at risk.

We have a water rights system that dates from the early 1900s and has changed little since, leaving rivers and estuaries mostly unprotected. In addition, our water planning process doesn’t even recognize protection of rivers and estuaries as a water need to plan for. We can do better than that.

Especially during droughts, water is an emotional issue that often gets framed in terms of one user versus another.  That is overly simplistic. Too much water is used wastefully and we just can’t afford that. This isn’t about depriving people of needed water to support cranes; it’s about managing a limited resource carefully to do more for all users.

The common allusion to the canary in the coal mine, recast here as the crane in the estuary, is hard to resist. The issue is much bigger than any single species.  Healthy estuaries, which rely on adequate river flows, support billions of dollars of economic activity every year: seafood production, recreational fishing, waterfowl hunting, and nature tourism. That is why the coalition that brought the lawsuit to protect the crane included businesses, coastal landowners, and local governments.

We can make this work for everyone.

Earlier this year, a conservation plan was approved setting out a balanced management approach for the Edwards Aquifer, which supplies water for about two million Texans and eight threatened and endangered species. Instead of continuing decades of litigation, legislation, and recrimination, the plan, developed by state and local stakeholders in response to a federal court decision much like the whooping crane ruling, finally has everyone working together.

In 2007, the Texas Legislature established a process for working towards ensuring water for healthy rivers and estuaries. Although that Senate Bill 3 process is far from perfect, it represents real opportunity. For example, the regional stakeholder committee considering river flows needed for the San Antonio Bay estuary system, where whooping cranes spend the winter, recommended an innovative approach for water projects. That approach would increase water supplies overall by allowing new diversions during wetter periods coupled with providing more water for the estuary during droughts, when cranes are most at risk. Unfortunately, TCEQ has, so far, rejected that positive recommendation, along with too many others.

We can focus on cursing the Endangered Species Act or acknowledge that there is a real problem and work to solve it. Our natural heritage is at stake. Future generations of Texans should be able to enjoy oysters and shrimp from Texas bays, fish for redfish, hunt mottled ducks, and, yes, see whooping cranes, the way we have. Let’s choose to solve the problem.

Posted in Austin, Environmental Flows, TCEQ, Wildlife Preservation | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Great Water Conversation Opportunity

Texas Wesleyan Journal of Real Property Law Presents:

Symposium on Securing Water Supplies for the Future: Risks, Challenges, and Opportunities

November 9, 2012 ◊ 8:30am-4:00pm
Texas Wesleyan University School of Law, Fort Worth, TX

The drought of 2012 was the widest water scarcity event in the United States in over a half-century. Gripping more than one-half of the continental US, the drought has taken a tremendous toll on agriculture, municipal water supplies, multiple industries, and the environment. As people and communities continue to reel from the heat and aridity, they are asking “how can we secure our water supply for our future?”

On November 9, 2012, the Texas Wesleyan Journal of Real Property Law will seek to address this question when it hosts the symposium: Securing Water Supplies for the Future: Risks, Challenges, and Opportunities. The one-day event will focus on legal and policy issues related to local, regional, and national water scarcity challenges. Essays and papers presented at the symposium will be published in the Journal’s spring 2013 issue. For more information about our symposium, please visit the website.

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Understanding Water Tradeoffs for Hydraulic Fracturing

Talk of the impacts of hydraulic fracturing (fracing) is nothing new, but some new developments regarding where gas companies are seeking their water requires another conversation.  We have already explained the quantities of water that are needed to effectively frac a well, but where does all that water come from?  The easy answer is anywhere they can get it.  In some locations, it is primarily ground water that is often purchased from the surface owner. In other areas, water is purchased from a municipality, which sometimes mean that energy is used to treat the water to drinking water quality standards just to be mixed with chemical and sand before being injected deep underground. A newer trend is the purchase of a city's waste water effluent. Here are some thoughts to consider on a couple of these sources.

Groundwater

One of the biggest challenges for supplying frac water occurs in areas with little to no surface water available.  Perhaps, the most controversial of these is the Eagle Ford Shale in Southeast Texas.  To say this area is booming is the understatement of the year.  Each of these wells and all of the people flocking to this area need water. Lots of water.  Most of that water is coming from the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer.

Under Texas law, drillers are allowed to use water owned by the surface owner for their drilling operations which sometimes causes friction between these two parties, particularly if the surface owner doesn't hold the mineral interests. In other words, the surface owner may be receiving very little benefit for a lot of burden.  To bridge this gap, many new surface use agreements include payments for water used, which gives the surface owner a financial interest in the well that may not have previously been present.  Unfortunately, many of these contracts obligate the driller to use water only from the landowner's well which discourages or outright prohibits recycling.  More importantly, it is literally placing landowners against one another for this precious resource.

Another twist to this story involves another part of the aquifer.  Although much of the aquifer produces fresh water, other areas are more brackish in quality.  While the gas companies pull tremendous amounts of fresh water from the aquifer, the city of San Antonio is launching a project to treat the brackish water and transport it to town for municipal use.  This is an extremely expensive project that is part of their new supply portfolio.  Why are oil companies adding chemicals to fresh water that will then be permanently stored in a disposal well while the citizens of San Antonio will pay to clean brackish water from the same area? Why aren't the gas companies compelled to use the brackish resources or help pay for San Antonio to use it?

To be clear, this is no fault of San Antonio's.  The city went after the water that they could acquire and currently, there are no regulations to prevent this from happening and water used for gas production is exempt from groundwater districts' regulations, but the result seems absurd and is not the best use of resources.

City Effluent

A more recent sought source of frac water is city sewer effluent.  The city of Bandera recently voted to sell the city's effluent to Alpha Reclaim Technology, who will transport the water from the sewer plant to drilling sites. At first blush, one might think this is a great solution and in some areas it may be.  Using sewer effluent is generally better than pumping fresh water needed by other users.  So what is the problem? Well, this water used to go down the Medina River and provide flows for the environment as well as for downstream users and now it is being intercepted before that can occur.  Again, Bandera isn't prohibited from making this deal and there is no regulation that requires them to continue to put their effluent in the river, but a change in this current practice will definitely have an impact.

The Future?

Both of these listed practices are legal, but neither may be wise.  The problem is that Texas doesn't always consider the big picture of water and how one user can impact another even in an accidental way.

As a recent conference, I was on a panel discussing these issues and a member of the audience asked why gas companies aren't being compelled to build water infrastructure, such as desalination plants, either for their own use or to save the citizens from having to pay for it in the future.  It was a reasonable point in my opinion.  There is a potential for these companies to make almost unimaginable amounts of money using local resources, such as water and then leave those who remain to pay the price.

It is clear that there are large economic benefits to fracing, both to individuals lucky enough to have mineral rights, and also to communities, but there is also a cost.  Unfortunately, we don't know how much or what this cost might entail, but ignoring it will not make it go away.  These areas need to start discussions about how to ensure longevity after the boom and how companies can contribute to that vision.

Posted in Austin, Drought, Environmental Flows, Groundwater, Hydraulic Fracturing, Water Planning | Tagged , , , , | 1 Response

Did We Miss Our Teachable Moment on Water?

Well blog readers, the blog is  back after a long hiatus and there is A LOT to talk about.  This summer may not have been as dry as last summer, but that doesn't mean there aren't lots of water issues to discuss.  We are not out of a drought and there still isn't enough to go around.  First, a tad about me.  I have changed positions and shifted into academia full time, while still doing some work for EDF so for now this blog will still be up and running in its current location. Unless you hear differently, please keep tuning in.

As the title indicates, I have been a bit disappointed in what I have been seeing in cities lately regarding water planning. One would think that after such a severe drought we would reevaluate our practices to be able to withstand another drought or just live more sustainably. Sadly that isn't the case. Here are some examples.

Austin

If you live in Austin you might have been confused this summer about when you can water and when you can't.  This might be in part because the city changed briefly back to 2x/week watering (even though the lakes were still far from full) in July and then they quickly got changed back to 1x/week in September.  The reason given for relaxing the standards was the trees, but hose watering was never restricted so that doesn't make sense.  The mayor said he didn't see a problem going back and forth, but some citizens might disagree particularly when it is within a 2-month time frame.  To successfully create a conservation culture you need a consistent message.  Perhaps a permanent ordinance change can be crafted that protects trees and provides consistency for residents.

Some Austin residents have all the consistency they need by having no watering rules apply to the wells they have drilled.  They argue that their use of groundwater alleviates the lakes for other uses, but that argument has very little do to with the issue.  First, that water they are happily removing is needed somewhere else, whether it be by springs and the environment or communities that don't have access to surface water.

Second, people shouldn't have the right to do things their neighbors aren't allowed just because they  can afford it especially when it is wasteful and not beneficial to the greater good of the community.  If anything, this could lead to local disputes and discord.  It is also looking for a solution in the wrong direction.  Central Texas is dry.  That is the reality. Instead of spending all that money on a well, the whole lawn could be revamped to require less water.  The City of Austin recently passed a resolution to require an owner register a well, but didn't prohibit the wells as other cities have done.

San Antonio

Last night in San Antonio, I attended one of San Antonio Water System's (SAWS) two public meetings on a proposed new Water Management Plan and Conversation ordinance.  What? You didn't know about these?  Perhaps that it because the events weren't listed on the SAWS website or in their newsletter.  In fact, I had to call SAWS to get time, date, and location the afternoon of the meeting, at which point it was added to the website.  Why does this matter?  Well, it matters because this will define the water future for San Antonio and people need to be aware of it.  It will also greatly impact water rates, although we don't know how much yet because that wasn't part of the presentation even though the board vote is scheduled for October 2, a mere two weeks away.  It is unclear when citizens will have the opportunity to learn about and comment on their future water rate increase.

Although I have many questions and concerns about the plan, right now I am more concerned about the process.  SAWS has a nationwide reputation for their leadership in conservation and water innovation. Part of the reason they have been so successful is their willingness to partner with community stakeholders.  However, in this biggest roll out since 2009, hardly anyone knows it is happening.  I hope this doesn't indicate a shift in SAWS culture.  The best thing SAWS can do in this situation is delay the vote on this plan and allow people time to review the draft document once it is complete and submit comments.

I have heard from various water managers that customers are experiencing drought or conservation fatigue. I am not sure how to respond to that.  We can't make it rain, we can't change our climate, we can only live within its bounds. Didn't the drought teach us that if nothing else? Perhaps the fatigue is coming from fighting reality whereas accepting it would not only make folks feel better, it would enable us to live here longer.

Posted in Austin, Central Texas, Drought, Edwards Aquifer, Groundwater, san antonio, Water Conservation, Water Planning | Tagged , , , , | 2 Responses

TCEQ Rules Fail to Adequately Protect Region’s Rivers and Bays

The post was guest authored by Joanna Wolaver of the National Wildlife Federation

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) adopted rules on Wednesday, August 8th that fall short of protecting environmental flows in the Guadalupe, San Antonio, Mission and Aransas rivers and the San Antonio Bay system. These rules are intended to help ensure sufficient water flows in the rivers and into the bays by placing limits on new water rights permits.

This result is extremely frustrating because of the use of flawed modeling by TCEQ staff in developing the initial rule proposal. Following staff’s recommendation, TCEQ Commissioners reduced environmental protections far below the levels recommended by the region’s stakeholder committee in an apparent attempt to minimize effects on future water development. Without adequate justification, TCEQ failed to capitalize on the work of the stakeholders, who had struck a careful balance between future water supply needs and environmental protection.

Who Picks the Rules?

For about two years, a group of diverse stakeholders worked with a team of scientist to develop environmental flow recommendations that provide adequate water for fish and wildlife – and the businesses that depend on them – while allowing for reasonable opportunities to develop future water supplies. These stakeholders included representatives of municipalities, river authorities, commercial fisheries, regional water planning, conservation groups, agricultural interests, industries and other groups. This process was established by Senate Bill 3 in 2007 to create flow rules for each of Texas’s major river basins and bays.

The stakeholder process was a difficult and time-consuming effort designed to address all reasonable concerns of the various interests. A vast majority of stakeholders (21 of the 24 members) recognized the value of finding a middle ground and endorsed a full set of recommendations. By rejecting so much of the stakeholders’ hard work, TCEQ missed an opportunity to adopt a balanced approach that could have helped minimize controversy over future surface water projects in the Guadalupe River basin.

Among other shortcomings, the adopted rules exclude protections for many of the high flow pulses that the scientists and stakeholders identified as critical to the health of the region’s river and bays. These surges of freshwater cue fish spawning, spread plant seeds, deliver nutrients and sediments to the bay and maintain bay salinity at levels needed to support healthy fish and wildlife, including oysters.

Before final adoption the Commissioners decided to add one level of high pulse flows in the Guadalupe River basin to the rules. This is definitely a step in the right direction but still not sufficient to protect the health of the rivers and bay system.

Senate Bill 3 directs TCEQ to adopt rules that ‘are adequate to support a sound ecological environment, to the maximum extent reasonable considering other public interests and other relevant factors.  Because the TCEQ rules are not adequate to protect a sound ecological environment, particularly for the San Antonio Bay system, TCEQ needs to provide adequate justification for short-changing our rivers and bays and the natural heritage of all Texans. They failed to do so on Wednesday.

However, on a more positive note, TCEQ also adopted a more reasonable set of rules for the Colorado and Lavaca rivers and Matagorda and Lavaca bays last Wednesday. Fortunately, in the case of the new rules adopted for this region, TCEQ adhered much more closely to unanimous stakeholder committee recommendations. However, even there, TCEQ did reduce protections for larger pulse flows recommended by the stakeholders.

Posted in Austin, Central Texas, Drought, Environmental Flows, Legislature, Rivers, TCEQ, Texas Rivers | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

What Did the Drought Teach Us?

Well things have been a little quiet on the blog.  With the rain came a lull in water news, but that was short lived.  We have a lot to discuss so let's get started.  In the wake of the drought, many cities are still in the process of taking stock of changes that need to be made to protect against future dry years.  Conservation is understood as increasingly important in the wake of shortage.  Cities are busy encouraging limited outdoor watering, replacing pipes and raising water rates.  One thing that the drought seemed to have shown many communities is the need to work together to protect this shared resource.  Unfortunately, some cities have still a little learning to do.

A recent article in Austin Statesman had many of us water watchers talking.  Apparently, a few Austinites are rebelling against watering restrictions by drilling their own water wells to maintain their lawns.  Perhaps more alarming is the fact that the City of Austin isn't making a move to prohibit or limit this conduct.  The article reports that 47 home wells were drilled last year with more on the way.  Not surprisingly, the increase of well drilling closely tracks dry water years and many of the new well owners were known high water users.  Due to the price of installing a well, they also seem to only be appearing in affluent areas of town.

This development again raises the issue of no extra water.  The water that these individuals have the money to extract is being removed from an aquifer that is currently being used by existing users as well as the environment.  From a policy perspective, there are also major concerns. The Austin Water Utilities is not tracking the water pumped from these wells and therefore is unable to monitor, profit, or encourage reduced usage for these properties.  In fact, the well owners will have "unlimited" water use — at least as long as that resource is available.  Why do they need all this additional water?  Primarily for plush, green lawns.  It is hard not to think of this as a tremendous waste.  At the very least, if people want to water lawns they should have to pay the city or local municipality for the privilege like other citizens do.

The article states that homeowners argue that the wells reduce the demand on the highland lakes, but less usage also reduces demand just like many other homeowner have learned. Further, it is shortsighted to look at these water sources as independent systems.  No aquifer has endless amounts of water. It is unclear what the aquifer impacts will be because it has never been studied.  One this is known: once it is gone, it isn't available for anyone to use.  Additionally, water is a community resource, which we should use as a community. In Buda, the city is fighting the a well permit application by an apartment complex.  At least in Buda, the user has to obtain a permit which provides some oversight and opportunity for public participation unlike the wealthier areas of Austin.

Private wells are a move in the wrong direction and don't represent Austin's posted conservation values.  The City of Austin should prohibit the unregulated drilling of these wells as other cities have done.  Water isn't just for the big houses.  It's for everyone.

 

Posted in Austin, Central Texas, Drought, Water Conservation | Tagged , , , | 1 Response

Upcoming Conference on Water

The drought of 2011 highlighted the challenges facing Texas in meeting the water needs of Texans and the environmental upon which they depend. On April 27th from 9-4, the Texas Living Waters Project will host the “Water for People and the Environment: Managing Texas Water Demands in the 21st Century” conference, which will explore some of the key ways in which Texas may meet those challenges through more efficient use and more effective management of our water resources.   This conference is open to the public and provides the opportunity to learn more and participate in the conversation about water and our future.

Keynote speaker for the conference will be Brian Richter, an international authority on river conservation and director of The Nature Conservancy’s Global Freshwater Program. Richter’s program promotes sustainable water management with governments, business, and local communities. He has consulted on more than 120 river projects worldwide, focusing on the challenge of sustaining healthy rivers and lakes while meeting human needs for water and energy. Richter is the co-author (with water policy expert Sandra Postel) of the book Rivers for Life: Managing Water for People and Nature. He will bring his knowledge and experience from around the world to address Texas water challenges.

Conference sessions will focus on how Texas state agencies, regional water authorities, and communities may enhance drought management and response, water conservation, water reuse, and other tools to assure that our state has adequate water resources to sustain our people and the rivers, wetlands, and coastal bays and estuaries so critical to our economy as well as our ecology.  Hope to see you there!

Conference Information:

Conference check-in and on-site registration: 8 – 9 AM; conference sessions: 9 AM to 4 PM

Pre-registration fee: $55 regular, $25 student, deadline for pre-registration: April 23;

Registration fee at the door: $75 regular, $35 student; student ID required at check-in;

Registration fee includes refreshments, lunch, and all materials; vegetarian and gluten-free options will be available at the buffet lunch.

Conference will be held at the AT&T Executive & Conference Center, on The University of Texas campus at 1900 University Avenue, Austin.

Posted in Austin, Drought, Legislature, Water Planning | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

TCEQ Proposed Rules Fail to Protect Central and South Central Texas Rivers and Bays

This post was guest written by Joanna Wolaver, Water Policy Associate, National Wildlife Federation

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) proposed a rule on Friday, April 13th that will determine the amount of water that must remain flowing in Central and South Central Texas rivers and into the region’s bays to sustain fish and wildlife populations. Unfortunately, this rule fails to include many of the protections recommended by the region’s stakeholder committees, leaving fish, oysters, whooping cranes and other wildlife high and dry. The good news is that there is still time to improve the rule by voicing support for stronger flow protections to Commissioners during the public comment period, which runs from now until May 14, 2012.

A Little Background

In 2007, the Texas Legislature acknowledged the need to protect water for fish and wildlife with the passage of Senate Bill 3. This landmark bill recognized the critical role environmental flows play in maintaining the ecological health and productivity of Texas rivers and estuaries and all the economic factors associated with them. It set in motion a stakeholder process to create flow standards for each of Texas’s major river basins and associated bays that would be applied to any new water permits that are granted.

Under this law, the state appoints a committee of stakeholders for each region that includes representatives from a diverse set of interests including river authorities, municipalities, industries, environmental interests, regional water planning groups, commercial and recreational fishermen, agricultural interests and others. Each  committee, with assistance from their science advisors, is to develop consensus-based recommendations for flow standards that find an appropriate balance between protecting the environment and providing for human water needs in the basin. These recommendations are then submitted to TCEQ, which has one year to consider them and adopt rules for the region.

Stakeholders Recommend Balanced Protections

In September 2011, the stakeholder groups for the Central and South Central Texas regions–the Colorado and Lavaca Rivers/Matagorda and Lavaca Bays committee and Guadalupe and San Antonio Rivers/San Antonio Bay System committee – submitted  flow recommendations to TCEQ that provide a reasonable level of protection for fish and wildlife while also allowing for future uses of water to provide for human needs.

Developing these recommendations was no small feat, as noted in a recent San Antonio-Express News opinion piece. For one, striking a balance between the needs of fish and wildlife and future human water supply demands is never an easy task. Making matters more difficult, these committees were faced with the reality that much of the water flowing in these region’s rivers has already been permitted for use with little or no consideration of the impacts on fish and wildlife.

Despite these challenges, after months of deliberation and compromise, the Colorado/Lavaca stakeholder committee unanimously approved flow recommendations that struck a reasonable balance. The Guadalupe/San Antonio comittee also developed comprehensive recommendations, endorsed by a super-majority vote of 21 to 3.

Proposed Rules Beg for Improvement

To the frustration of the vast majority of the stakeholders, the rule proposed by TCEQ for Central and South Central Texas rivers and bays fails to incorporate key aspects of the stakeholder recommendations with insufficient explanation from agency staff as to why those key aspects where left out. This leaves the region’s fish and wildlife populations at risk. Fortunately, the public comment process provides an opportunity to improve these flow standards before they are adopted by the three TCEQ Commissioners in August.

We urge you to join the National Wildlife Federation and our Texas Living Waters Project partners in asking the Commissioners to safeguard Central Texas’s fish and wildlife populations – and the jobs that depend on them – by strengthening the proposed rule. Please consider submitting comments on the rule by May 14, 2012.

For more information on environmental flows and other Texas water issues, visit www.TexasWaterMatters.org.

Posted in Austin, Central Texas, Drought, Environmental Flows, Texas Rivers, Water Quality | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Big City Water Problems Call for Big Solutions

It is no secret that more Texans are moving to urban areas. More people mean more water demands. More water demand means more infrastructure and all of this requires more money.  It doesn't help that all of this increased demand is taking place during a serious drought, forcing city and state governments to explore new solutions.  The good news is that most large Texas cities are not located in a desert like Las Vegas or Phoenix, at least not yet.  That aside, the current crisis necessitates action and that seems to be starting.

What to Do?

A couple of weeks ago, Texas lawmakers on the House Natural Resources Committee came together to talk water.  One of the interesting aspects of the hearing was the focus on the need for water to preserve our economy.  Water is often discussed from an environmental or even personal lifestyle perspective, but it is also a critical part of Texas industry.  In many ways, Texas has weathered the national economic turmoil fairly well.  This cannot continue without sustainable water resources.  Cities can't grow and industry can't run.  Unfortunately, even within this reality some Texas cities, such as Corpus Christi, seem to be ignoring this harsh reality.

On the other hand, the DFW area, often vilified for its water usage, is seeking to make twice-a-week watering restrictions a permanent way of life for local citizens thanks to the banding together of four North Texas city mayors.  Whether or not this particular rule is the key to all the metroplex problems, this move towards a regional approach is most certainly a huge improvement.  As we all know, water doesn't respect physical boundaries so group planning in an important part of any water solution, particularly in areas where people work in one area and live in another.  Unified metroplex rules can solve many points of confusion that might arise.

Austin is also discussing new approaches to watering and restrictions.  Often, strict watering restrictions don't take nature into account.  It can be perfectly legal to water the day after (or during) a rainstorm even if it isn't logical.  The real key to efficient watering is a combination of when and how much. Austin is considering a pilot project that gives discretion to users regarding when they water as long as they don't exceed a monthly water budget.  Smarter technologies may be a key to helping the ground "decide" when some water is needed and when it isn't.

The Natural Resources Committee hearing also turned to infrastructure and technology.  The perceived silver bullet of desalination was again raised with references to what has been done in Australia.  It is important to note that the use of increased technology in Australia was paired with customer behavior changes.  Conservation in all aspects of life was a critical component of the overall water plan.  That being said, infrastructure is an important aspect of sustainability.

Who Should Supply Water?

Interestingly the gap between need and supply has created an opportunity for private companies to replace local agencies as water providers.  Traditionally, water supply and infrastructure has been the exclusive purview of the municipal provider, but as city to-do lists get longer, they are more willing to contract out the work.  The basic reasoning is that a private company has a financial incentive to replace old, leaking infrastructure because lost product means lost revenue.  Many criticize this shift because it changes a public service to a private, money-making enterprise and is seen as the commoditization of water, which should be a public good.  Unfortunately, a frequent side effect of privitization is exorbitant increases in water bills.  After all, these companies are here to make a profit.  On the other side of the coin, many cities simply do not have the revenue to replace pipes responsible for thousands of gallons of leaking water.

In some ways, it is hard to argue against paying higher prices for water. Many feel that we don't pay what water is worth; however, commoditizing water can be a dangerous game.  If cities are going to contract with companies, a balance must be struck.  Water is necessary for life so no one should be priced out of the market for their basic water needs.  High, punitive pricing should be reserved for large, discretionary users who may decide the price of a large lawn is worth it.  Additional issues arise if users in comparable urban areas are paying significantly different rates simply because of a local government choice.  If privitization is going to be continuing trend, state legislators need to consider putting some basic rules in place to limit what people can be forced to pay, particularly for basic amounts as well as other limitations on corporate actions as they affect water supply.

It isn't news that there isn't one answer to this issue.  Group efforts with diverse approaches are necessary, but it's good to see some important conversations taking place.  We will keep letting you know what we hear.

Posted in Austin, Central Texas, Climate Change, Dallas, Drought, Legislature, san antonio, Water Planning | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment