For some Texans, a day without water is not imaginary – it is an unfortunate reality

In Presidio County, running water is a luxury that some residents do not enjoy. Families in Las Pampas, a Colonia near the Mexican border, must truck water from the City of Presidio to their homes north of town, spending money and time to secure what many Texans take for granted – running water and the economic opportunity this provides. Decades ago, when Las Pampas was first developed, a few groundwater wells supplied water to homes and even a restaurant, but the wells were poorly constructed and too shallow to access reliable underground water in this desert region.  Eventually, they stopped flowing, and Las Pampas literally dried up. 

A few miles north in the former mining town Shafter, residents have been living under a boil water notice for years after the mine that supplied the town’s drinking water from a deep groundwater well went bankrupt.  With no one to operate the well and collect drinking water samples, the people of Shafter currently live in a state of uncertainty over their future water supply and whether it is safe to drink. 

Lingering uncertainties over water supply are not confined to Texas’ borderlands. The Hill Country, right in the heart of the state, remains in the grip of unrelenting drought worsened by the incessant drumbeat of new development dropping more straws into already over-drawn aquifers. This long-developing issue finally came to the fore this summer as iconic Hill Country springs, including Jacob’s Well, ran completely dry. Local groundwater managers, restricted by insufficient data and limited authority, can only do so much to stem the decline.   

Statewide, water infrastructure remains a major concern. Half of Texas lost water in February 2021 in the aftermath of Winter Storm Uri. For many rural communities, boil water notices have become a regular part of life, regardless of the weather. The state is averaging eight boil water notices a day in 2023.    

Whether it is aging and deteriorating water pipes and treatment facilities or unreliable water supplies, Texans do not need to imagine a day without water.  For many, this is an unfortunate reality. One that is avoidable.

There is genuine hope on the horizon this fall. Texas lawmakers have proposed an amendment to the Texas constitution that would create a new Texas Water Fund with $1 billion in funding to address critical water infrastructure and supply needs across the state. If approved by voters on November 7, Proposition 6 will be an important initial step to address Texas’ vast, and accelerating, water infrastructure needs.

Critically, the new fund prioritizes rural communities — the areas that often have both the most dire needs and the least capacity to address them. In addition to funding new water supply development, the fund will support water conservation initiatives, water loss mitigation, and, perhaps most importantly, technical assistance, which will boost the capacity of small communities like Presidio to access and maximize available funding. 

While Proposition 6 is an important step in the right direction, it is only a drop in the bucket of what the state will need in the coming decades. Current estimates project that Texas will need to invest $150 billion in water infrastructure over the next half-century. And that funding will need to go into more than buying new pipes. Lawmakers will need to fund significant science initiatives to improve our understanding of the state’s shifting hydrology — particularly its complex, still inadequately modeled aquifers. The legislature also needs to develop and fund improved local management efforts to ensure efficient, sustainable management of the state’s finite water resources. And finally, lawmakers need to further empower local leadership so that communities like Presidio, Shafter, and thousands like them, can better navigate their water needs.  

Texas needs a broad, creative, and urgent effort to secure a sustainable water future. We can begin on November 7. 

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