Lately there have been a rash of articles discussing water resources and the drought. Unfortunately, they are all focused on people using more water than they do under normal conditions or on finding new supply so people can continue to use more water. The problem with this is that the water now proposed as "new supply" may be depended on by another user, the environment, or it might be part of a groundwater/surface water connection in a cherished area.
What's the Big Deal?
First things first. You may have noticed a little rain outside, but it doesn't mean that the drought is over. Far from it. The highland lakes are currently less than 50% full and the ground in many areas is still bone dry to say nothing of all the trees and wildlife that may not recover. Many parts of Texas have still received little to no rain. This is an important starting point for understanding the water situation as summer approaches. If the drought continues, there will be areas in Texas where all water needs cannot be met.
The Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) recently announced its plans to develop 100,000 acre-feet of "new" water through a variety of different technologies (none of which is conservation, by the way). Proposed project costs range from $1.9 billion to $177 million. Ideas include desalination, off-channel reservoirs and groundwater pumping among others. Although none of these ideas have been committed to by the board, they all have implications for other users.
This announcement comes at the heels of rice farmers not receiving their allotted water so that other users with firm contracts (such as City of Austin) could be guaranteed water. How does this inability to deliver downstream change the relationship between farmers and Austinites? If a farmer comes to town and sees water running down the street, might they wonder how that relates to their inability to farm this year? This was certainly true in the case of proposed Fastrill Reservoir. Local citizens were angered at the thought of their land being taken to provide water for Dallas lawns. The problem with water is that it doesn't exist in a vacuum, it is a system. That system means that we are interrelated as much as the waters are. Unfortunately, the law often doesn't recognize this.
Groundwater v. Surface Water?
Nowhere is this more obvious than the way our legal system bifurcates the regulation of surface water and groundwater. The problem is that nature doesn't follow along. A recent example of this creates particular cause for concern. Earlier this month, the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) approved the Desired Future Conditions (DFCs) for the Trinity Aquifer in western Hays County. While this act alone may not be noteworthy, this will directly affect the Texas treasure known as Jacob's Well. Jacob's Well is one of many locations in Texas where groundwater changes character to surface water. We know geologically and historically that allowing over pumping of groundwater will make these beautiful areas disappear. Should the water needs of a growing residential area take priority over such a unique place? What if those residents don't use the water wisely?
As we move into the crowded and hot future, priorities will need to be set and accountability between neighbors will continue to increase. As water resources dwindle, the state grows smaller and what happens in one part of the state directly affects the livelihood of another Texan miles away. As we plan for the future, we need to keep this in mind.