Our long term water plan

We’re in deep trouble if things continue as they are.

Every five years, the Texas Water Development Board publishes a water plan for the state. The 295-page draft of the 2012 plan, published last week in the midst of the worst-ever single-year drought Texas has ever experienced, is a sobering read.

“The primary message of the 2012 state water plan is a simple one,” the introduction states. “In serious drought conditions, Texas does not and will not have enough water to meet the needs of its people, and its businesses, and its agricultural enterprises.”

The report is packed with data and projections, but a few stand out. The state population, now 25 million, is expected to increase to 46 million by 2060. During that time, existing water supplies will fall 10 percent as the Ogallala and other aquifers are depleted.

If Texas does not plan ahead, a drought as bad as that of the 1950s could cost Texans $116 billion a year by 2060, the report says, and cause the potential loss of more than one million jobs.

Building new reservoirs and wastewater treatment plants and other water infrastructure is projected to cost $53 billion.

You may recall that this is the plan for which no money has been budgeted by the Lege. Feeling thirsty yet?

Couple things to note. One is that the main danger in making such long term projections is that you have no way to know if whatever growth rate you’re assuming for things will hold true. To go from 25 million people today to 46 million people in 50 years is an annual growth rate of 1.23%, which is considerably less than the 1.89% annual rate we saw from 2000 to 2010 but still more than the 0.93% rate for the US as a whole from that same period. Any number of things could change that rate one way or the other, and if so it could have a sizable effect on the 2060 population. There’s a reason these estimates and plans get updated periodically.

Conservation is mentioned throughout the report as a necessary strategy, with different regions having different levels of urgency. In places like the Panhandle, conservation is upwards of 80% of the 2060 strategy volumes; in other areas, it’s 20% or less, or even not explicitly mentioned in the highlights. In addition to conservation, new reservoirs, water reuse, and desalinization are all in the mix. It’s a big document and you might not understand all the technical terms – I sure didn’t – but take a look and you’ll get the general idea. And consider mentioning to your State Rep and State Senator that maybe thinking about all this, and how to pay for it, is a good idea.

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