By Kathleen Jackson
Water challenges in Texas result from the shifting dynamics of our state. An expanding population, varied economic interests, and ongoing drought all affect the way we use water right now. The goal of the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) is to embrace our unique opportunity to resolve these challenges with affordable and sustainable water for Texas.
In Texas, the future is almost impossible to contemplate without understanding the extreme growth taking place across the state. The population of Texas is expected to grow 82 percent by 2060. This equates to at least 6 million new people in the Dallas area, 5 million new people in the Houston area, and 2 million new people in the Rio Grande Valley.
Texas is already the second largest state in the country based on population; now, even some of the smaller, historically rural parts of the state are projected to double their populations in the next 50 years. And as more people and businesses are moving to Texas, our water supply must stretch even further. Our job at the TWDB is to do something about it so that Texans and Texas businesses not only survive, but continue to thrive well into the future.
The TWDB monitors the state’s growth projections as part of our scientific and planning process. Formed in 1957 after the seven-year-long drought of record, the TWDB serves the people of Texas by providing the science, planning, and financing necessary to ensure the state has water during times of drought.
These efforts manifest in the official state water plan every five years. Water planning in Texas is done on a 50-year horizon, and the state water plan is the blueprint for moving these plans forward. This research includes water supply levels, population and water demand projections, and the strategies (including capital costs) needed to provide enough water for communities in every region of the state.
Regional planning groups must develop water demand projections for various sectors of the Texas economy. These include municipal, manufacturing, mining (oil and gas), steam-electric (power generation), livestock, and irrigation. Due in part to our state’s business-friendly climate, demand is projected to increase over the next 50 years. For example, the demand for steam-electric, or power generation, is expected to increase by 121 percent, from 0.7 million acre-feet of water in 2010 to 1.6 million acre-feet in 2060.
Power generation will make up a little more than seven percent of all projected water demands in 2060. Comparatively, 38 percent of the demand is expected to be for municipal, 13 percent for manufacturing, between one to two percent for mining and livestock each, and 38 percent for irrigation (which is the only sector forecasting a decrease between 2010 and 2060).
As drought continues (as of February, 39 percent of the state was in moderate to exceptional drought, U.S. Drought Monitor) and the availability of our water supply continues to dip in areas across the state, it is vital that Texans understand just how much water is available to meet these future demands. If Texas is unable to implement new projects and strategies to increase the existing water supply, our state might face a shortage that could impact future growth.
Thankfully, due to the bottom-up approach we use in Texas that allows for regional water planning groups to plan for water at the local level first, impactful water infrastructure projects and strategies have been identified that will allow every region of Texas to continue to prosper for the next 50 years.
In the 2012 State Water Plan, the capital cost of these projects and strategies totaled $53 billion. From that total, the regional water planning groups were able to estimate the portion of the cost the state would need to fund to get these water projects off the ground.
After the drought of 2011 went down in recorded history as the single driest year in Texas, Texas legislators and citizens alike united in a demand for a significant change to our water infrastructure.
As a result, legislation calling for a one-time $2 billion investment from the state’s Rainy Day Fund to finance water projects in the state water plan was passed and later approved by an overwhelming majority of Texas voters in 2013 (voters will remember this as Proposition 6). That legislation facilitated the creation of the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas, or SWIFT, which is expected to finance at least $800 million in statewide water projects each year for the next 10 years. This loan program can serve as an effective tool for fast-tracking water projects.
Although the TWDB has provided more than $15 billion in financial assistance for water projects across the state since its inception, our goal is to be as proactive as possible in assisting with the development of smart, efficient, and innovative water solutions. While conservation will always be the most important and cost-effective water-saving effort in Texas, new technologies can also help optimize efficiencies and create value. Seawater and brackish water desalination, aquifer storage and recovery, and direct potable reuse are all on the table.
These innovative technologies are now realistic opportunities thanks to SWIFT, which we anticipate will fund almost $27 billion in financing for state water plan projects over the next 50 years.
Texas has been at the forefront of economic development by focusing on initiatives that promote a business-friendly climate. During the height of the recession, the Texas labor force grew by 40 percent more than any other state’s. People move to Texas for good-paying jobs and they stay for the quality of life. If we want to maintain this trend, we must continue to act and take the future of our water supply into account.
Texans tend to think on a larger-than-average scale. Our ideas, just like our state, are often bigger and more far-reaching than the rest. We take pride in our accomplishments and our can-do spirit, and that sometimes makes us vulnerable to the things we cannot change. In Texas, we cannot make it rain. But in its absence, we can and will plan for times of drought.
Every industry needs water now and in the future. It’s up to our local community leaders to take part in the water planning process. We encourage CEOs and business executives to take a seat at the table and engage with us in the regional water planning process. Your input is needed so that the planning process for Texas’ most precious resource reflects our state’s business needs, as well as those of the other economic sectors.
There is no issue more important than water in Texas. We must develop it ourselves, and sustain it for future Texans. We need water for generations to come, for our children and our children’s children. Please join us in our efforts to invest in the future with water for Texas.
Kathleen Jackson is a Board Member of the Texas Water Development Board. She is an engineer based in Beaumont and has served as a past member of the Lower Neches Valley Authority Board of Directors, the Texas Water Conservation Association, and participated on the Sabine and Neches Rivers Bay and Estuary Environmental Flows Assessment Program Stakeholders Committee.