Five Things You Might Not Know About Water in Texas

Scott Olson/Getty Images

A dead fish decays on the dry bed of O.C. Fisher Lake in San Angelo, Texas.

There’s been a whole slew of reporting on the drought in Texas over the last few days. What’s new here that you didn’t know already? Check out this list of five things you may not have known from a series on the drought by Jeannie Kever and Matthew Tresaugue of the Houston Chronicle:

  1. Water supplies are so low, people are drinking their own wastewater. Grossed out? Perhaps you shouldn’t be. Using treated, recycled wastewater (the water washed down your shower, sink and yes, toilets) is already the norm in California and Florida, and the current water plan predicts that its use “will grow by about 50 percent by 2060, to 614,000 acre-feet per year, or more than 20 million gallons,” according to the paper. “One thing attractive about this water, as long as people are taking showers and flushing toilets, there’s a source of supply,” Robert Mace, deputy executive administrator at the Texas Water Development Board told the newspaper. 
  2. Where’s all of our water going? The short answer is agriculture, which uses up about sixty percent of the state’s water. But a good amount also goes to energy, and we may not even know how much. The state’s Water Development Board told the Chronicle that “about 160,000 acre-feet of water were used for mining in 2008, the latest figures available. That includes oil and gas production and came after drilling began on the Barnett shale in North Texas, but before work ramped up in south Texas’ Eagle Ford shale. Another 482,100 acre-feet a year was used for cooling at power plants” in 2009. That means that about five percent of the state’s water as of a few years ago went to coal power and fracking. An additional 2.5 percent went to cooling at thermometric plants. A new report by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that “the state is actually better prepared to cope with an energy-water collision than many other states.” Power plants in Texas aren’t among the nation’s biggest users of water, thanks to large amounts of natural gas and wind power production. But last year during extreme heat and the drought, one Luminant power plant ran out of water from its primary source, a lake, and had to import water from the Sabine river.
  3.  Are we going to end up fighting over water? Possibly. The paper reports that more than half of our state’s water comes from aquifers underground, “but the rules governing who owns that water and how much of it they may use are still evolving, the next front in the water wars.” The chairman of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, Troy Fraser, told the paper that “I don’t think there’s any doubt that, over time, a barrel of water will end up costing more than a barrel of oil. It will become a very, very valuable commodity.” An ongoing case before the Texas Supreme Court between landowners and the Edwards Aquifer Authority is a good example of the types of water wars we could see more of in the future.
  4. Which city’s residents use the most water? Dallas. Their residents use 213 gallons of water per person per day, while residents in other cities use far less, according to the paper. Houston residents use around 134 gallons of water a day, and San Antonians use 149 gallons a day. Earlier StateImpact Texas reported on the top 25 water users in Austin.
  5. Is there any water hiding out there? It’s not really hiding, but it sure is salty. There is enough water underground to supply the state for the next 176 years, the paper says, but it’s too brackish for drinking. The solution? Desalination. “For many cities, the cost of desalination – up to four times that of other water treatments, sometimes even more for seawater desalination – is no longer a deal-breaker,” the newspaper reports. “The state’s first permanent seawater desalination plant will open on South Padre Island in 2014.” There are several dozen small desalinization plants already in operation in Texas, most of them in West Texas and El Paso, home to the state’s largest desalinization plant, which is “capable of producing 27.5 million gallons of water a day for city customers and those on the Fort Bliss Army post.” Here’s some more reporting on desalination in Texas from KUT News.


  • Donna J Ellis

    Thank you for this information. More people need to know about the coming water crisis in Texas.

  • ubi

    i bet those windmills don’t use as much water as fracking for natural gas does.  nor does the manufacture of solar panels.  i lived in texas for a while, why that state doesn’t exploit solar and wind power more is beyond me.  

    • Turnerkristen

      I agree!

    • SheepODoom

      Simple you can’t limit where the wind blows or the sun shines… Therefore Corporations can not YET control it so there is no profit to exploit. IF your thinking on Oil Gas & Coal Company terms. However what they are NOT seeing is that these same companies CAN exploit these two resources & profit from them. what if the ONLY Solar panels were GE solar panels? Or the Only Wind Generators allowed were GE wind Generators This these companies FAIL to see.

      • Lucycarin

        You can put solar on mountains where it snows, and get lots of energy… tech and modern ways, folks…..

    • StateImpact Texas

      Hi, ubi. Wind energy does use far less water, and Texas is the top producer of wind energy in the country. We’ve done some research and reporting on wind and solar in Texas that you can read here:

      Thanks for reading.

    • Theartz

      Just like Arizona should!

    • Xghxgh


  • Woody Bailey

    We use about 25-30 gallons a day per person at our house in Northern IN.

  • James

    This story is full of typos and grammatical errors. Come on, NPR! Who’s typing these stories for you? And moreover, who is proofing them??

    • Jen

      I only saw one typo, which was a missed space between “Chroniclethat” in #2. I’m just wondering what you’re referring to? The only bad grammar I saw was in the quotes, which the author can’t control.

    • Kaya823


  • CV

    Makes me glad I live in Massachusetts.

    • Brando

      Ignorance is bliss, right? While the Article is about Texas, this is a global problem.  Water is being pumped out of aquifers much faster than they can be recharged.  This is not a problem for only arid regions anymore.  Surface-water flows have been reduced due to groundwater development in the Ipswich River basin, Massachusetts.  If you know water, or if you live close, you know about Boston’s water/infrastructure problems.  “The chairman of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, Troy Fraser, told the paper that ‘I don’t think there’s any doubt that, over time, a barrel of water will end up costing more than a barrel of oil. It will become a very, very valuable commodity.’”  It’s right there in the article.  The wars of the future will be fought over water.

      • James Hayes-Bohanan

        Right on both counts, Brando. I live in Massachusetts also, having moved here from Texas 14 years ago. The problems are not as severe yet, but they are complex and in some ways just as intractable. That is the first count; the second count is that even if we live in a local state of bliss, environmental problems are increasingly seamless.

  • Al Bass

    Thanks for your comments.  Change your water.  Change your life..

  • Al Bass

    Thanks for your comments.  Change your water…Change your life.

  • Meyers Katherine

    Thank GOD for small favors, and be thankful for what you have.

  • Susan Cunningham

    Sounds like the citizens of Dallas need some water rationing to keep them more in line with other cities in Texas! I live in the Great Lakes region and have reduced water usage by showering and flushing less often, and limit watering gardens and lawn to once a week during the summer. 

    • Brando

      We have water rationing in place most of the year here around Dallas.  Watering gardens and lawns is the main problem.  We need to plant more native plant species, and get out of the mindset of forcing a nice bermuda lawn to grow where it doesn’t belong. 

  • chica

    70% of city water in Texas goes to landscaping, thus the high water usage per person.  A good solution is to move away from lawns and try native grass or xeriscaping.  Bermuda grass needs 100-ish inches of water a year to thrive  and stay green vs. our natural rainfal of about 30″.  Also, it’s from Africa.  How dumb is it that we use it for our lawns?

  • Christopher Rose

    OK so my question is when are we going to realize the need for population control if we want to keep a decent qualtiy of life? I don’t want to live on an earth so overcrowded that we live in cracker boxes, ther eis no opensapces or wilderness, and we are fighting resource wars! Quit having babies people!

    • YouCanCallMeSir

      With that in mind, the whole argument to make abortions illegal seems a bit shortsighted.

    • Coldnclear

      Maybe we should have forced sterilizations and killings like China?

  • Georgia Steven

    Well, That certainly cuts out any plans for fishing in texas…All in all, I’m not impressed with the 2 texas governors and their glee in executing people and bragging about it. No way will i vote for one for president, that’s a good joke, though…

  • First NameFrank

    I won’t question the potential of a water shortage,but will question the powers that use it as a fear factor. This is a way to milk average Joe for millions & make him feel guilty in the process. I live in Los Angeles and I’m amazed just how much rain water just simply flushes into the Ocean , via the Los Angeles River,where is the concern here. I understand it doesn’t constitute solutions in total, but for sure it is more than a simple drop in the  bucket.Come on people let solve not just generate revenue !!

  • Emilio

    Wow. That sucks. Good luck Texas.

  • Barbara Jungbauer

    The water wars are coming. No, you people in the southwest cannot drain Lake Superior and send it down via a pipeline.The only reason Texas, Arizona, Nevada and most of California have large populations is air conditioning. When water becomes too scarce and electricity too expensive, those populations will melt away and the desert will return.

  • Greg Churilov

    California is not drinking wastewater. First of all, the initiative was to re-use gray water (NOT blackwater, ie toilet) for purposes such as showers. But not for drinking. Secondly, this initiative made a lot of noise a few years ago, and it got shot down. It did not get approved.

  • Patriot4ever

    Better listen up here folks; when the water source dries up, say good bye world. It isin’t just a problem in Tx, it’s everywhere, even throughout the midwest, west and southern states. With the climate changes now in process, it may already be to late to do much about a water shortage.

  • Dp

    “Water supplies are so low, people are drinking their own waste. Grossed out? Perhaps you shouldn’t be.”

    Shame on you for sensationalizing this statement. First of all, it’s completely untrue: there is no waste in the cleansed wastewater. Second of all, this is a terrific solution that suffers from a PR problem spawned by ignorance, and this kind of writing isn’t helping. I would expect better from NPR.

  • Artishealing

    Very few New Mexicans were aware of the water crisis in TX and very few of us were against voting in our current Gov. Susanna Martinez – received most of her funding from Texas corporations who have a loong history of trying to convince our local government to “share” our limited resource as well. Texas has proposed that NM divert some of the San Juan River water to their state. The water wars are just begining. And hopefully more NM residents will wake up to the crisis.

  • Magrisanti

    Before I would vote to send water to Texas, I would request that some of those New Yorkers who moved down there leave and come home! Do not allow Lake Erie water to go to Texas!!!

  • Jenny B

    One major problem here is housing communities that require people to keep a nice looking lawn with grasses that don’t grow natively in Texas. Who cares about what your lawn looks like when there are people in Africa who are dying from the drought. We care way too much about keeping up with the Jones than conserving and compromising. If we did away with all grasses not native to TX then our problem with water would be greatly diminished.

    • Someone

      I love paying $18 a month to my HOA to have them yell at me about how my lawn isn’t up to their requirements. Course, the grass they’re in charge of is either dead, or riddled with 3′ tall weeds.

  • Sarah Lynn

    There’s no way the average person uses 150 gallons of water per day.  I believe the author made the mistake of dividing a city’s total water consumption with the city’s population, not taking into account industrial, agricultural, and business consumption.

    Sloppy reporting.

    • Someone

      They might have broken it down based on other factors. How much electric power does a person use? Lets say 100KW (just a number, not accurate) and to generate 100KW in that region, requires so many gallons of water. Then add in how much food a person consumes, and how much water is required to grow that food, or raise the livestock.

      So lets do some math. Water use for a shower is 2.5-7 gallons per minute. Take a 10 min shower, you could be using 70 gallons just right there. Water efficient toilet uses 1.6 gallons per flush. Lets say you use the toilet 4 times a day, that’s 6.4 gallons there. Water efficient washer uses 25 gallons, use that twice a week (colors and whites) so 50 gallons, so about 7 gallons a day. Then add in drinking water, water for cooking, water for brushing teeth and washing hands, washing dishes. One person could be using nearly 100 gallons just from all that. Depending how much water the person actually uses and what type of equipment they have. Shower heads, toilets, washer, dish washer, faucets, etc.

  • Samsmom12000

    Texas has two nuclear power plants inside its borders, to which Cooling System: STP is cooled by water from its own 7,000 acre reservoir- water from Texas is needed to cool the generators constantly. Hence, that is where Texas’s water is going….

  • Rexmil

    this is very interesting.  i think we should move to thr desert!  las vegas still has lots of water.  if we don;t move into conroe we will have to get a camel and ride to town.

  • Russell La Claire

    This is the number 1 reason we are moving. There is no doubt that water is already an issue. But, most folks are still growing grass like they owned cows/sheep/goats. The swelling population coupled with the on going drought is going to make C. Tex an uncomfortable and costly place to live.

  • Laetitia Pachuau

    good job. can u put some more photos if possible?

  • qaz

    we need to stop fracking with what little precious water we have left

  • Someone

    US Naval ships go out to sea months at a time. Where do you think they get water for everything they use? They get it from the ocean of course. Simple distilling units. Nimitz class carriers have 4 such units, able to make a total of 400,000 gallons a day. They use this water for steam catapults for the jets. They use the water for the reactor and steam propulsion plants (steam turbines for the electric generators as well). Potable drinking water. Water for cooking and keeping food warm. Water for laundry. The list goes on. Oh, and these distilling units are smaller than an average camping trailer.

    Why aren’t we taking these distilling units, which are extremely old technology, and make a bunch of them and put them right off the gulf? Seriously, we could improve the technology, make them larger, and make fantastic water treatment plants right off the coast, and use the existing pipelines to send that water all over Texas. The only reason I can think of to not do this, is because they don’t want to. Why wouldn’t they want to do this? Probably to ensure the situation doesn’t change. Keep the droughts going, so water can be extremely pricey.

    • Someone

      Forgot to mention that water for a reactor is well beyond any filtration system used for potable water delivered to homes and businesses. Meaning, the water that goes to a reactor is 100x cleaner than what you’re drinking or bathing in.

      There is no concern about ocean water being too hard to filter, due to contaminants or salt content. It is easy enough to do out in the middle of the ocean and put it into a reactor vessel, you can do it well enough to put in people’s homes, or water farmland.

  • Vince DeDominicis

    This article is so warped. 213 gallons of water per person? Come on… I live in Dallas, and that is so far from the truth. About 70 gallons per day is more like it.

  • Buck Ofama

    Why I didn’t move to Austin, but stayed in a state with abundant water… and not saying its name.

  • JG

    ubi: For you people in love with wind and solar, do you have any idea on the cost per KW? You must not or you would re-think this. As a minimum take your electric bill x 4 and see if you can afford it?

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