Growing Returns

5 principles for resilient groundwater management in Texas

Although Texas has a solid foundation for managing groundwater, this foundation is cracking under the combined pressures of increasing demand and decreasing supply.

These pressures are pitting rural areas against urban areas and landowners against each other, with groundwater conservation districts caught in the middle.

To overcome these challenges and ensure resilient water supplies, Texas leaders must improve the state’s framework for managing groundwater. That means finding common ground among diverse stakeholders on how to best sustain supplies.

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Texas leaders made a big mistake ignoring water this session. But not all hope is lost.

Last weekend I paddled on the Blanco River with my family. We swam in spring-fed swimming holes, fly fished and lounged in shallow sections of the river, which was flowing nicely thanks to recent rains that ended drought conditions across Texas.

But it’s hard to ignore that Texas is sitting in the shadow of one of the worst droughts in history — one that’s crippling the rest of the West.

As temperatures rise and groundwater levels remain low with little rain in the forecast, it is imperative that we develop solutions to manage our water supplies more sustainably.

Unfortunately, state leaders put water on the back burner this legislative session, failing to take action on several water bills — even a benign bill to study groundwater and surface water interactions. But just because state leaders haven’t taken action doesn’t mean we can’t.

Here are three steps that all Texans can take now to build momentum behind protecting our rivers, streams and groundwater. Read More »

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Pristine streams in Texas need protection. It’s up to the state Senate to act.

The first time I paddled the Nueces River I was blown away by the water — crystal clear, aqua colored, almost tropical. I could easily see the bottom of the river many feet below me and fish as they darted under my kayak.

Fed by springs that percolate up from groundwater beneath the Edwards Plateau, the Nueces is among the last remaining uniquely pure waterways in Texas.

More development is leading to an increase in discharge permit applications in Texas, putting pristine waterways like the Nueces at risk.

House Bill 4146 by Rep. Tracy King (D-Laredo) and Senate Bill 1747 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) in the state Legislature will protect these unspoiled streams and rivers by prohibiting wastewater discharges in them. HB 4146 has passed the House and now awaits a hearing in the Senate Water, Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee.

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As Texas drought worsens, two bills can advance sustainable, equitable groundwater management

Drought conditions are now confronting 75% of Texas, putting more pressure on critical water supplies.

Thirty-two cities or water supply entities in Texas are under voluntary or mandatory water restrictions. Flows in a majority of river basins across South Central Texas have dropped below or far below normal. And the Edwards Aquifer, which stretches across thousands of acres in South Central Texas and serves San Antonio, has dropped nearly 10 feet below average levels for March.

Amid this grim news, state lawmakers have the opportunity to take two important steps toward more sustainable and equitable management of vital water resources.

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3 lessons from a Texas groundwater district on managing during drought

The Hays Trinity Groundwater Conservation District in central Texas urges residents to “please protect your aquifer by limiting water use.” The district manages groundwater in Hays County, Texas, one of the top five fastest-growing counties in the U.S.

Due to drought, the district has imposed a 20% curtailment on groundwater pumping districtwide and a 30% curtailment in a 39 square-mile region within the district that includes the iconic Jacob’s Well spring, the second-largest underwater cave in Texas and a popular tourist destination. Read More »

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5 challenges to sustainable groundwater management in Texas and how to tackle them

In 50 years, Texas’ population is expected to grow by 70%. That’s 20 million more Texans who will need water in a state that has repeatedly faced drought-induced water shortages and will likely suffer more intense droughts in the future.

As the population grows, groundwater will continue to play a critical role in supporting Texas’ ecology and economy. Today groundwater provides approximately 60% of the 16.1 million acre-feet of water used in the state annually and an estimated 30% of the flows in rivers, streams and springs across the state. Read More »

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3 strategies to create a resilient water supply for Texas

The world is a different place now than it was when I grew up in Houston in the 1980s. I have vivid memories of steamy summer thunderstorms consistently interrupting my afternoons at the neighborhood pool. My sister and I would head home and swap our swimsuits for raincoats, then stomp around muddy ditches and dig up crawdads while thick warm raindrops drenched our faces.

My sons will have very different memories growing up in Texas. Their memories will be marked by extremes — football games either played in dust bowls or canceled because the field had become a lake.

As my children grow up in this era defined by persistent drought, periodic floods, and now the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m concerned about their future as nature will continue to test the state’s best-laid plans.

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