New Texas Water Plan Focuses on Storage, Reuse | Fluence
Texas drought

The old swimming area of Texas’ Lake Buchanan, depleted by drought. The new Texas water plan is the first to include data from the 2011 drought.

The Texas Water Development Board has approved a new state water plan that focuses on storage and water reuse to meet projected water needs.

Every five years, 16 regional planning groups across Texas collaborate on a plan that looks 50 years into the future. The new plan is the first to include 2011 drought data, and includes $62 billion in new capital water projects, focusing on water storage. Among the capital projects envisioned are 26 major reservoirs.

Roughly 30 percent of the plan is devoted to reducing water waste and increasing conservation. Water reuse is also featured, and desalination is expected to be the source of roughly 2 percent of the projected new water supplies.

The new facilities suggested by the plan are intended to address a forecasted 70 percent growth in the state’s population by 2070 — about 24 million new residents. In addition to the increase in population, other expected challenges include groundwater depletion and sediment buildup in existing reservoirs.

More than 5,000 strategies are suggested in the plan. If fully implemented, they could add 8.5 million acre-feet of water to state supplies by 2070.

Regional Contributions to Water Plan

The plan uses population growth projections plus water supply and demand forecasts to create a template for navigating another historic drought. As Circle of Blue explained:

The state is divided into 16 regional planning groups that represent a range of interests: cities, farms, electric utilities, conservationists, groundwater regulators, and a half dozen others that are required by law to be at the table. The regional groups assess supply and demand and identify potential shortages during conditions equal to the worst drought on record.

These regional groups identify how to cope with water shortfalls, whether through infrastructure construction, conservation, or water transfers. These plans are submitted to the water board. Once each is approved, all are combined into a statewide plan. The board does not have a say in shaping the regional plans.

Texas Water Development Board member Kathleen Jackson said:

In addition to conservation, communities across Texas developed other innovative solutions to ensure they have adequate water supplies in the future. […] Aquifer storage and recovery and direct potable reuse, in particular, increased significantly in this plan compared to the 2012 State Water Plan. These increases demonstrate the state’s commitment to exploring a variety of strategies to meet the state’s long-term water demands, including those that rely on the advancements of innovative technology.

Planning Concerns

Some state environmental activists are concerned new reservoirs could  disturb existing rivers and affect large tracts of environmentally sensitive land. Others expect that not all of the projects will be funded.

Luke Metzger, director of the environmental nonprofit Environment Texas, told the Texas Observer that his group expects such large infrastructure projects to be a last resort to address water scarcity.

Among the expected water use changes are a decrease in agricultural water use and growing demand from increases in city populations.

Municipal demand is expected to increase by 62 percent, particularly in the metropolitan Houston and the Dallas-Fort Worth areas. But demand projections are decreasing. Water demand in the 2012 plan was estimated at 21.9 million acre-feet by 2060; in the 2017 plan, that same 2060 projected demand was reduced 5 percent to 20.9 million acre-feet.

In addition to environmental concerns, other groups claim the report’s projected 83 percent increase in water use for electricity generation is too high based on the growth of renewable generation sources, namely wind and solar energy. Still others think the water needs are overstated in some regions.

The Texas Water Development Board, however, is not mandated with managing state water use. That falls to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Instead, the development board collects and distributes water data and prepares the state water plan, and administers water-related financial assistance programs.

Water Conservation

Metzger said one of the positive aspects of the new plan is that reliance on conservation was raised from 34 percent to 45 percent to meet increases in population growth:

That shows a really positive trajectory and direction that the state is heading in. […] It demonstrates that state leaders recognize both the efficacy as well as the environmental benefits of conservation projects.

Image by Lars Plougmann, used under a Creative Commons license.