Alternative Water Management
Strategies, June 2005,
from the Lone Star Chapter Sierra Club.
Release: Monday, October 17, 2011 For More Information: Ken Kramer
Statement of Ken Kramer, Director, Lone Star Chapter, Sierra Club, on the
Draft Water for Texas 2012 State Water Plan
– Presented at the Public Hearing Conducted by the Texas Water Development Board in Austin – October 17, 2011
(Austin) The Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club appreciates the opportunity to provide our perspective on the draft 2012 Texas Water Plan at today’s public hearing. We will submit formal comments on the draft prior to the deadline on October 25. Our purpose this evening is to highlight some key issues impacting Texas water resources that need to be addressed more effectively in state and regional water planning.
The Sierra Club appreciates the vast amount of work and effort that has gone into this latest update of the state water plan and the regional water plans that provide the basis for the state document. We are impressed with the wealth of information that the state water plan provides about our state’s water resources, and we acknowledge the commitment that our state’s leaders have made to comprehensive water planning on an ongoing basis, something that is not common among states across the country.
Our state’s water policies have been evolving dramatically
over the past decade and a half, and usually in a positive
direction, as witnessed by the growing importance of water conservation as a means of addressing water demands and by statutory enactment of a process for formally identifying environmental water needs and setting standards based on those needs. But Texas has a long way to go in devising a state water plan that will truly meet the needs of our people and our environment in the 21st century.
In many respects the draft 2012 state
water plan is a “place holder” – based to a large extent on data that was gathered or used for the 2007 plan and not yet able to incorporate new information such as the results of recent joint groundwater planning efforts and the standards for instream flows and freshwater inflows currently in process. At this point the adoption of the 2012 plan is pretty much a foregone conclusion, since it is the culmination of regional water planning over the past five years.
Therefore, our focus now, as we embark
on the next round of regional and state water planning, should
be on building on the progress made thus far and addressing
the inadequacies of the current draft state water plan. Here are some of the key issues that need to be addressed in the regional and state water plans:
(1) The role of water conservation
as a water management strategy needs to be enhanced. Although the draft state plan envisions that one-fourth of the state’s future water demands would be met through municipal or agricultural water conservation efforts, there is much more that could be and needs to be accomplished by more aggressive conservation initiatives. San Antonio Water System pumps no more water today than they did 20 years ago, despite the tremendous population increase in San Antonio over that period, because they have had an ambitious and effective water conservation program over the last decade and a half. If more water suppliers, such as big regional suppliers like the City of Houston, were to match that level of effort, water conservation would be an even more important management strategy in future water plans.
(2) Drought management needs to be
incorporated as a water management strategy for all water
user groups required to prepare drought contingency plans. With the exception of the regional plan for the Lower Colorado (Region K), the state water plan and the regional water plans on which it is based continue to ignore the reality that the Texas Water Code requires the preparation and submittal of drought contingency plans by a large number of water suppliers and water rights holders and these drought plans are expected to be implemented, obviously, in dry years!
The state and regional water plans
are intended to address such dry years but they rely mainly
on proposing new water supplies to allow people to use as
much water as they would in a normal year without any restrictions – as
if there were no drought contingency plans and as if those
drought plans did not involve any reductions in water use
at various stages of drought! This continues to be a source of amazement. If implementation of drought contingency plans by water user groups was included in the state and regional water plans, we would have a much more realistic estimate about how much additional water supply is really needed in dry years.
(3) The use of water by the oil and
gas industry – especially the heavy use of water for hydraulic fracturing – needs
to be evaluated more thoroughly and incorporated into the
planning for regions where that use is increasing dramatically. The draft 2012 plan acknowledges this issue (for example, on page 140 in the discussion of “Mining Water Demands”), and we appreciate the fact that the Texas Water Development Board contracted with the Bureau of Economic Geology to study mining water demand projections for the 2016 regional water plans. Unfortunately the Barnett Shale region and now the Eagle Ford Shale region are already being impacted by the dramatic expansion of hydro-fracking water use that was not foreseen in previous water plans or the current draft.
(4) In developing population and water
demand projections the Texas Water Development Board needs
to evaluate the impacts of potential changes in immigration
from south of the border and the increasing trend toward
multi-family residential housing (including high-rise housing)
in Texas cities. Recent studies indicate significant reductions in birth rates in Mexico, which may reduce pressure for out-migration and thus could decrease the population growth rate in Texas. In addition the increasing attractiveness of multi-family living in the central city may mean that some population growth is not going to be accompanied by the increases in water use that might otherwise result from suburban population growth and attendant outdoor landscaping.
(5) The increasing focus on the water-energy
nexus may lead to a decrease in future water demands for
steam-electric generation that is not reflected in the current
draft state water plan. The push for energy efficiency is accelerating, the use of non-water-using renewable energy sources such as wind power and distributed solar is expanding, and clean air regulations and other factors may lead to the retirement of existing coal-fired power plants and prevent building new ones, for which water has traditionally been the cooling source. These trends call into question the projection in the draft state plan (page 141) that steam-electric water use is expected to increase by 121 percent over the next 50 years.
The Sierra Club believes that attention to these and other important issues in the upcoming fourth round of regional water planning will help us prepare a water plan for the 21st century.