More Holes To Be Filled In the 2012 Draft Texas State Water Plan

 This post was co-written by Sachin Shah, an intern in EDF's Austin Office.

Source: Texas Water Development Board

Last night, the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) conducted a formal public meeting in Austin to get input on the recently released 2012 Draft State Water Plan.  The plan is the product of the State’s five year water supply planning process. Considerable funding decisions are based on the projections and supply strategies proposed in this plan.

Upon review of the plan, many of the same concerns from the 2007 State Water Plan were left in the minds of citizens, environmental organizations, and industry officials alike.  While a laudable effort, some key issues still need to be addressed more effectively in state and regional water planning.

The Water Plan at Work

The State Water Plan, developed every five years, is based on a consensus-driven process involving 16 Regional Water Planning Groups (RWPG), which are composed of various stakeholders.

Within TWDB guidelines, each RWPG reviews water use projections and water availability volumes to meet the needs of all water users under dry or drought-of-record conditions. When a shortfall between supply and projected demand is identified, the planning groups recommend water management strategies to meet this need. If existing supplies cannot meet future demand, specific management approaches such as water conservation, new reservoir or groundwater development, water reuse, or others approaches are recommended.

Source: Texas Water Development Board

Once the planning group adopts the regional water plan, the plan is sent to the TWDB. The TWDB then compiles information from the regional water plans and other sources to develop the State Water Plan. Because water is vital to all aspects of our economy and environment, the plan, which directs state funding for water development, affects all Texans. Currently, Texas is in the worst drought since 1950and the State Water Plan is essential to create a framework to alleviate the drought’s long-term effects.

“Texas Has a Long Way to Go.”

The 2007 State Water Plan, sounded many alarm bells when it predicted several water availability shortfalls created by increasing demand coupled with decreasing supply. The lack of serious discussion regarding drought contingency, conservation and efficiency left many stakeholders feeling that some of these extreme scenarios were unfounded and could be cured with a few simple solutions.

 While an improvement on 2007, the 2012 Draft State Water Plan has many of the same weaknesses.  It focuses on one message: in serious drought conditions, Texas does not and will not have enough water to meet demand.   The 2012 draft plan estimates that under drought conditions, without ANY water supply development, Texas will be short 2 million acre-feet of water in 50 years (a decrease of 10 percent).  It proposes to remedy many of these shortfalls with antiquated and expensive solutions. For example, in addition to the 26 proposed reservoir sites (up from 14 in 2007), there is a series of proposed long-haul pipeline projects, which would create expensive and potentially environmentally damaging impacts, while still not being a reliable resource.

 Perhaps, the most dramatic change between the 2012 and the 2007 plan is the cost of implementation. Carolyn Brittin, of TWDB, who oversees the publication of the Plan, says that the cost for implementing the State Water Plan will rise from $31 billion (in 2007) to $53 billion due to increased construction cost, water purchasing costs, and increasing land costs related to mitigation.

Addressing Inadequacies

Ken Kramer, Director of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, believes that although Texas water policies have evolved dramatically over the past decade and a half, it still “has a long way to go in devising a state water plan that will meet the needs of our people in the 21st century.”

Mr. Kramer says that in many respects the draft 2012 State Water Plan is a mere “place holder” for incorporating new data in the 2017 plan. In fact, the current plan was “unable to incorporate new information such as the results of recent joint groundwater planning efforts and the standards for instream flows and freshwater inflows” currently in process. Other important data sets, such as the increased water use for hydraulic fracturing seem to be missing all together.

Here are a few recommendations made by Mr. Kramer at the meeting to improve the plan:

  1. Enhance the role of water conservation as a water management strategy. The plan needs more aggressive conservation initiatives like the ambitious and effective water conservation program San Antonio Water System has implemented over the last 15 years. Conservation shouldn’t just be maximized in areas without an alternate water supply, it should be used everywhere. 
  2. Incorporate drought management as a water management strategy for all water user groups who are preparing drought contingency plans. The state water plan continues to ignore the reality that the Texas Water Code requires the preparation and submittal of drought contingency plans by a large number of water suppliers and water rights holders. These plans usually rely mainly on supply management practices allowing people to use as much water as they would in a normal year without any consequences instead of requiring dry climate reductions.
  3. Water use and demand for hydraulic fracturing needs to be incorporated into the planning process for areas with increasing natural gas development. Although the draft 2012 plan acknowledges this issue, the Barnett Shale region and now the Eagle Ford Shale region are being impacted at an unprecedented rate by the expansion of hydro-fracking water use that was not addressed in previous water plans. Accurate predictions and management of future water supply is not possible if significant users are quantified.
  4. The energy-water nexus is not well understood in the draft plan. This nexus may actually lead to a decrease in water demand for steam-electric generation. The current draft plan does not take into account the push for energy efficiency and non-water-using renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power. These alternative energy sources may lead to decommissioning existing coal-fired power plants and prevent the build of new ones, for which water has traditionally been the cooling source. This must be addressed in the plan to re-evaluate the projection in the draft that steam-electric water use is expected to increase by 121 percent over the next 50 years.

Water supply decisions motivated by the Texas State Water Plan are critical to our natural environment, economy, livelihood, and any effects from climate change.  For that reason, we need to ensure that we are as innovative as possible.  Texas should not plan with the assumption that we will use the water the same way 50 years from now. The Environmental Defense Fund knows Texans can do better.

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