Category Archives: Central Texas

Make a Water Resolution

Happy New Year!  2011 was not a good year for Texas water lovers and despite some recent rains we are still in a serious drought that isn't likely to end soon.  As we all enter into another potentially challenging water year, the blog suggests that you make a water resolution.  January is the time for fresh starts, so why not start here?  Here are some suggestions. 

1) Limit buying bottled water – A few years ago I set a goal for myself that I would only buy 25 bottles of water all year including international travel.  I went out a bought a good refillable Nalgene and wrote down every I bought a bottle.  When I did buy one, I bought a big one to reduce waste.  I finished the year well beneath my goal so each year I lower the number.  If you don't like the way your local water tastes, try a filtering bottle

2) Shorten shower time — Many of us have no idea how long we are in the shower.  Becoming aware of how much water we are using is the first step in reducing and changing our relationship with water.  Just take a look at the clock when you get in and when you get out and see how you fare. If you were in there a long time, see if you can reduce it.  You can also buy a timer just for this purpose to help you limit showers to 5 minutes.

3) Replace plumbing — If you have an old toilet, shower head or faucet, make this the year to change those.  Check with your city because there might be a rebate or incentive program that will reduce costs. You might even get it for free!!

4) Do a little landscaping — If you are like me, your yard may look a little pitiful right now.  This might be a good time to survey what high water usage plants can be removed and/or replaced with something more fitting to the local environment.  If you do decide to replant, be sure you can ensure survival while still adhering to any watering restrictions in your area.

5) Tell a friend — We are all in this together so, although individual action is certainly important, we need to work together to ensure there is enough water to go around.  If you see someone wasting water, stranger or friend, say something.  It doesn't have to be confrontational, just give them a little information, make a joke or direct them to the blog. 

Of course this is only a starter list.  If you thought of one that we haven't mentioned, please submit a comment with your idea.  Welcome to 2012.

 

Also posted in Austin, Drought, Water Conservation, Water Cooler, Water Planning | Tagged , , , | 1 Response

Learning a Little About Aquifers

I recently ran across an amazing video of the Trinity Aquifer in Central Texas posted by the Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District.  Groundwater has been described as "mysterious and occult" because we often don't totally understand what is happening underground.  Aquifers are highly complex systems and each one has its own unique characteristics, but this video is a great starter for understanding something so important.

Happy Thanksgiving from Texas Water Solutions!!!

Also posted in Drought, Groundwater, Water Conservation | Tagged , , | 1 Response

Are you a water saver? Show it off!!

A new program launched in Central Texas allows water savers to get credit where credit is due by placing a FREE sign in their yard, which announces, “This yard is helping to conserve our water supply." The signs are available at six easy pick-up locations in central and south Austin, Round Rock, San Marcos and Bastrop.  “The yard signs give bragging rights to people who pledge to conserve water at home or at work and help educate neighbors and passersby about the important role conservation plays in protecting our water supply,” said Jennifer Ellis with the National Wildlife Federation in Austin.

The yard is a good location to discuss water since outdoor watering accounts for one of the largest uses of water in our region and is the most logical place to start conserving.  You can save water and money by limiting outdoor water. In response to the drought, most water providers in our region have implemented outdoor watering restrictions based on triggers, such as low lake or aquifer levels.

This sign campaign is a project of the newly-formed Central Texas Water Efficiency Network, a coalition of over 15 water suppliers, municipalities and water conservation advocates in Central Texas. These entities work together to promote water efficiency education, technologies, and other efforts that regionally impact water supplies and use.  Go get your sign today and set an example.

Also posted in Austin, Drought, Water Conservation | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Big Step Forward in Protecting the Edwards Aquifer

This post was written by Dianne Wassenich, Executive Director of the San Marcos River Foundation

Four years ago, a group of very diverse (and often at odds) group of stakeholders started meeting in a seemingly impossible effort to solve the problem of the Edwards Aquifer and ensure water for all its users.  Last week marked a historic agreement in that effort.   Through an almost unanimous vote, the group agreed on a Recovery Implementation Program (RIP), which will protect the flowing Comal and San Marcos springs and the threatened and endangered species who live there while still providing water for its users.

This agreement comes after decades of conflict in this central Texas region about who could pump the aquifer, how much, and when.  The consensus-based RIP process was initiated by US Fish and Wildlife (USFWS) because of its success in other states and later legislated in 2007’s SB3, which created tight deadlines for the process.  This was a particularly difficult challenge because it involved complex groundwater and surface water hydrology and a mix of state agencies, cities, farmers, industries and environmental interests.

Thousands of stakeholder hours have resulted in a feasible science-based plan that will help keep the springs flowing in a drought even more serious than the one we are enduring right now, according to computer models.  Seven years of additional work is planned on the aquifer model and other studies to help the group understand whether the plan is enough or if more is needed.   The plan is estimated to cost $18.5 million a year and will further limit the pumping of the aquifer.  Much of this money will go towards paying farmers not to pump during low water years and storing water in an underground reservoir, which will be owned and operated by San Antonio Water Systems.

As a stakeholder representing the San Marcos River Foundation, I am happy to see this plan completed and hope it will be approved by Edwards Aquifer Authority in December and forwarded on to the USFWS for their approval.  We hope we can move quickly in our region to get some of the projects underway to protect this important water resource.   This RIP is a testament to what can be accomplished when people work together for a solution.

Also posted in Austin, Edwards Aquifer, Environmental Flows, Groundwater, Legislature, Regional Planning Process, Resources, SB3, Water Conservation, Water Planning | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

TCEQ to Determine Future of Central & South Central TX Fish and Wildlife

Today, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) will hold a public meeting to take input on a recently initiated rulemaking process to develop standards for the amount of water that must remain flowing in those rivers and bays.  The upcoming decision will determine the future of Central and South Central Texas rivers and bays as well as oysters, shrimp, whooping cranes, and other fish and wildlife – and economic industries dependent upon those resources. The TCEQ rulemaking is the final stage of a multi-year consensus-based process to set environmental flow standards for the Colorado/Lavaca river and bay area (Region D) and the Guadalupe/San Antonio river and bay area (Region E), the second set of areas to undergo a statewide process established by 2007's Senate Bill 3.

Over the past two years, stakeholder committees, including representatives of river authorities, industries, regional water planning groups, agricultural interests, commercial and recreational fishing interests, conservation groups and others, worked together to develop recommended flow standards that will apply to diversions of surface water in the respective areas.  “The future health of Central and South Central Texas fish and wildlife – and the jobs that depend on them – are in the hands of TCEQ,” said the Sierra Club's Tyson Broad, who also served as a stakeholder for the Guadalupe/San Antonio area recommendations, which were endorsed by 22 of the 25 members.

After months of deliberation and compromise, the Colorado/Lavaca area stakeholder committee reached consensus and unanimously approved reasonably protective flow standard recommendations.  “These recommendations represent an incredible amount of effort by a diverse group of stakeholder interests . . . to achieve a reasonable balance between the need for water to support healthy fish and wildlife and the jobs they support, and other human water needs,” said Myron Hess of the National Wildlife Federation, who served as Vice-Chair on the Colorado/Lavaca area stakeholder committee.

TCEQ has until September 2012 to formally adopt the final rules based on the stakeholder recommendations and other input. The rules will govern future water rights permitting and guide voluntary strategies to help restore flows. The first opportunity for public input will be this Thursday, Nov. 3 at 2 p.m. at 12100 Park 35 Circle, Bldg. E, Room 201S in Austin. Written comments can also be submitted to Kathleen.Ramirez@tceq.texas.gov until Nov. 17. We urge TCEQ to adopt environmental standards consistent with stakeholder recommendations and take this opportunity to protect our natural resources for future generations.

 

Also posted in Austin, Environmental Flows, TCEQ, Texas Rivers, Water Planning | Tagged | Leave a comment

Will the Drought Change the Way We Do Business?

One theme that continues to grow louder is that this drought is not like the others.  This one changes things.  Multi-generational ranchers and farmers are selling their stock and looking out over their parched land and wondering if the work of their ancestry has reached an end.  Similarly, on Lake Travis and other Texas lakes, boat access restaurants and other lake-related businesses are experiencing desperate times.  All of these stories force Texans to realize that the past may be just that.   Assumptions about water can no longer be relied upon and we must change the way we manage a supply that can be so easily placed in peril.

One change that needs to occur is the way we manage water.  As we have already written, this needs to be done at the state and local levels.   A recent opinion piece in the Austin Statesman called on the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) to change their water management plan and take a more active role in the usage of their customers.  Of course, any water management changes made by the LCRA would certainly affect Austin, their largest customer.  Austin, which didn't implement additional water restrictions until early September is already facing looming Stage 3 restrictions by spring.

These drastic reductions, as currently written, ban almost all outdoor watering.  Austin Water Utility (AWU) representatives stated that Stage 3 was meant to be limited to emergencies and limited implementation.  The late implementation of Stage 2 and pending Stage 3 issues call the drought triggers and reductions into question.  AWU and the Mayor are pushing for a rewrite of the plan before it gets to Stage 3.  To be effective, any rewrite also needs to critically evaluate the Stage 2 triggers to ensure they are happening early enough to help us weather a true drought like this one and not just a dry summer.

Meanwhile, as some watch their livelihood slip away due to the drought others still feel they have a right to use a disproportionate portion of this shared resource.  Most of us have seen water running into the street or seen sprinklers working during the heat of the day.   Austin recently published their top ten water users, many of whom were not strangers to the list including cycling legend Lance Armstrong, who while not on it last year has been featured in the past.  The top user, Robert W. Girling used a staggering two million gallons of water in 2010.  For comparison sake, I used 35,000 gallons.

Another repeater, Congressman Michael McCaul blamed his high ranking on a leak for the third year in a row.  Lists like these are sometimes criticized.  Opponents argue that if people pay for the water so they shouldn't be exposed.  This argument might be more valid if their actions didn't affect all other water users.  Water belongs to all of us and the only way we will succeed is to work together. So, if you see your neighbor watering their driveway, you may want to ask them nicely to stop.  It's time to handle our water business differently.

Also posted in Austin, Drought, LCRA, Water Planning | Tagged , , , | 4 Responses

Your Opportunity to Have a Say in Texas Water Planning

Every 5 years the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) completes a 50-year assessment of Texas' water supply and publishes the State Water Plan and submits it to the legislature.  This is an important planning process for water supply and considerable funding decisions are based on the projections included in this plan.

The 2012 Draft State Water Plan was recently released and TWDB is conducting public meetings to get input on the plan. A formal public hearing will be held in Austin on Oct. 17 at 6 p.m. in room 170 of the Stephen F. Austin building.  There is also a formal public hearing in addition to a 30-day public comment period up until Oct. 25.

Expect a more detailed post from us after the October 17 meeting with the highlights of the draft plan and our thoughts and concerns.

Also posted in Austin, TWDB, Water Planning | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Drought from the Power Perspective

We have said it before and we will say it again — NO ONE is immune from drought and the latest group feeling the pinch is the power producer. This should be no surprise as we have written extensively on the energy water relationship. Drought not only limits the water available for our water needs, it may also limit our power.

Texas' record breaking drought reduces the amount of available water power plants require for cooling.  If that water is not available, the plant must stop running.  Despite this critical co-dependency, power and water are still planned separately.  In times of limited water supply, this can cause big problems.  So what is the solution?  Well in the short term, the options are somewhat limited.

Maximizing conservation and efficiency by all users will help protect water for power use.  Private landowners are also seeing an opportunity.  One landowner wants to sell almost 400 million gallons of water per year to the newly permitted White Stallion plant.  White Stallion has encountered challenges in obtaining water rights because of public opposition and limited water availability.  While potentially serving a short-term goal, approval of the sale of groundwater for these purposes will cause significant problems for nearby land owners sharing in this resource, particularly in times of drought.   Simply selling water and re-purposing it will not work for the long term.

For the future, we must think beyond the short term because one thing is certain, after this drought there will be another one. We need to learn from this one and put policies in place to be ready for the next.  The power and the water sectors need to come together in their planning.  New power plants, particularly those being built in drier areas, need to use water efficient cooling technologies and companies need to complete a water availability study for the life of the plant which takes into consideration existing users and drought scenarios. Water must be discussed and planned in the beginning so we don't get caught later.

When we discuss energy security, water must be a integral part of that conversation so we don't end up sitting in the dark craving a glass of water.

Also posted in Drought, Energy-Water Nexus, Water Planning | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Constitutional Proposition Could Help Ensure Texas Water

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

Infrastructure for the Ages

Pat Sullivan, Associated Press

On any given day this summer you can probably find a broken water main like the ones found in Southeast Houston and Central Austin. The water infrastructure in Texas isn't getting any younger, which is why the state feels it needs more money to repair the hundreds of thousands of old water pipes in the state. The American Water Works Association reports that the average amount of leakage from Texas municipal water infrastructure systems is 15 percent and 18 percent which can add up to a lot of water waste.

Water loss from leaking pipes can generate negative effects such as increased cost of water treatment, higher water costs for customers, and property damage, placing even more strain on a state with dire need of water use efficiency practices.

Currently, 78 percent of the state falls within the exceptional drought category, and other 12% isn’t doing well either.  The stress placed on both water supply and water infrastructure calls for the need to repair leaky pipelines and construct additional infrastructure to ensure continuous delivery of water.

This November, the proposed $6 billion constitutional amendment Proposition 2 will provide additional general obligation bonds by the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) to help restore water infrastructure and other water-related projects to increase use efficiency across the state and save much needed water. At the core of TWDB’s mission is to ensure that Texas is prepared for drought, not only by overseeing and maintaining a state water plan, but also through financing a significant portion of water and wastewater infrastructure for the state.

TWDB Drought Map

Drop in the Bucket

Proposition 2 would allow cities, counties, districts, and river authorities to apply for low-interest loans from the state for various water infrastructure projects. This financial assistance loan program is particularly helpful for municipalities who are unable to access funds from traditional market sources. This isn’t the first time citizens are voting to approve state bonds to provide loans to local governments for water projects in Texas. In 2001, voters authorized TWDB to issue $2 billion in new bonds,  which led to numerous water conservation projects across the state.

Proposition 2 would allow TWDB to issue up to a total of $6 billion in bonds at one time as cities ask for it and reissue those bonds as they are paid off without coming back to voters for permission. Without additional authority to issue state-backed bonds, TWDB would be unable to provide the financing needed to meet the state’s water and wastewater needs. The state also may be unable to provide required funding matches for federal grants, which could mean losing federal funds for Texas water programs.

In reality, $6 billion would be a drop in the bucket for the state. The TWDB estimates there is $231 billion worth of long term infrastructure needs statewide. With water issues in Texas at the front of people's minds in the coming decades, the State sees the need for statewide repairs while the rest of us have seen water bubbling up from the ground more than usual this summer.

Melanie Callahan, interim director of the TWDB, explains that it is beneficial for municipalities to borrow money from the agency rather than trying to raise bonds themselves, because of the strong credit rating of the TWDB. TWDB can issue loans at a lower rate than most of the entities throughout the state and are backed by revenue streams guaranteed by municipalities seeking the funds. As a result, Callahan said that the chance that a municipality might default is very low, even if economic conditions in municipalities become bleaker.

Texas Two-Step: More Growth, Less Supply

In Texas, our biggest challenge in sustaining job growth and economic development is water. The Texas population is expected to double by 2060. This growth is a plus in many ways, but a lack of water could stunt it.

Although we may not agree on all the various assumptions regarding future water use used in TWDB’s projected water models, we can all agree that meeting the needs of all Texans over the next 50 years is going to be a challenge so using it wisely and eliminating waste should be a top priority. While it might be true that Texas population is growing, it isn’t a foregone conclusion that we can’t save more water or use water more intelligently.

 

Graph from TWDB's Proposed 2012 State Water Plan

 

As TWDB points out, “economic losses from not creating additional water supply could result in a reduction in income of approximately $11.9 billion annually if current drought conditions continue, and as much as $115.7 billion annually by 2060, with over a million lost jobs.” One way to find additional supply is to use less. Leakage repair and water reuse can help.

 No Blank Checks

Let’s be clear that the TWDB bond loans will only be based on requests for funds from local entities and will not be a handout. In addition, the Bond Review Board, chaired by the Governor and composed of state leadership, oversees issuance of all state bonds, including the TWDB’s bonds.

One of our concerns is whether the bonds will be used for constructing reservoirs.  The proposition funds would be on a first come, first serve application basis to no one really knows exactly which projects will be funded. However, any bonds could be used for reservoir construction would likely require a legislative appropriation for construction because of the price tag.  This system of checks and balances will hopefully ensure the money goes to the best place keeping Texas with water for a long time to come.

Texans will vote on Proposition 2 along with nine other constitutional amendments on November 8, 2011.

Also posted in Austin, Climate Change, TWDB, Water Conservation | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

New TCEQ Rules Threaten Bay Health

This blog was written by Joanna Wolaver, a media consultant with National Wildlife Federation in Austin, TX

Chances are you saw the national headlines. Texas’s extreme drought has reduced the flow of freshwater from rivers into Galveston Bay, causing hyper-saline, inhospitable waters for wildlife and significant harm to the bay’s oyster industry. However, this is only part of the story.

These extremely salty conditions could become the norm rather than the exception due to rules recently adopted by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) Commissioners. Under these rules, upstream water users will be allowed to pump significant amounts of water from the Trinity and San Jacinto rivers. As a result, summer freshwater inflows from these rivers into Galveston Bay will be reduced levels low or even lower than the bay is experiencing now more than half the time.

These rules are the result of a three-year long process that was intended to ensure sufficient water for fish and wildlife – and related industries – during times of drought while also meeting human water supply needs. (The adopted rules only impact new water rights, not existing water rights.) However, instead of putting adequate protections in place for the bay, the process resulted in protections lower than those already in place.

So, what can we do now to ensure a healthy future for the bay?

First, TCEQ must revisit the rules for the Trinity and San Jacinto Rivers and Galveston Bay and make them stronger. Water rights holders should also be encouraged to participate in voluntary efforts such as donation or sale of existing water rights to environmental purposes and dedication of wastewater return flows. The City of Houston’s recent dedication of approximately half of its wastewater return flows to this purpose as a critical first step in this effort.

In addition, the Commissioners are currently considering regulations to protect fish and wildlife in Central Texas rivers and Matagorda, Lavaca, Mission, Copano, Aransas and San Antonio bays. Please join the Texas Living Waters Project partners – National Wildlife Federation, the Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter and the Galveston Bay Foundation – in urging them not to make the same poor decision they did for the Trinity and San Jacinto rivers and Galveston Bay by enacting insufficient flow rules in other Texas river and bay systems.

This is not the future we want for our beloved and economically important coastal areas.  Please contact the TCEQ Commissioners at commiser@tceq.state.texas.gov or 512-239.5500 and ask them to fix the Trinity and San Jacinto and Galveston Bay rules to protect bay health.

Also posted in Austin, Environmental Flows, Rivers, TCEQ, Texas Rivers | Tagged , , | Leave a comment