List of Texas Water Projects Draws Concerns Over Conservation

Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

As the state looks to fund water projects, concerns are being raised that not enough conservation is being encouraged.

Within days of the announcement earlier this year that the state legislature could get serious about funding new water projects in Texas, folks started having questions. Where will that money go? Why not make more of the water we have instead of building more reservoirs? And what’s to prevent the proposed $2 billion ‘water bank’ from suffering the same problems and controversies as other state funds have?

A partial, preliminary (and perhaps even premature) answer came this week after an open records request by the Associated Press. They asked to see a list of prioritized water projects from the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB), the same list that State Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horshoe Bay, Chair of the Natural Resources Committee, recently complained about not being able to get from the board. It was drawn up at the request of Fraser, and lists projects that are most likely to be ready and of a higher priority.

Texas faces the conundrum of a rapidly growing population, with increased water demands, in the face of falling water supplies and hotter, drier weather. How to ensure the state has enough water going forward has been one of the key issues this legislative session.

Environmental groups looked at the list this week and quickly became concerned that it emphasized building new water supplies over conservation.

The list (which, again, is preliminary) has some 26 projects on it, most of them surface reservoirs, with some groundwater and desalination projects, with an overall price tag of over $8 billion. Most of those projects would benefit cities. The priciest project on the list is a $1.8 billion pipeline to bring water from existing reservoirs to Dallas and Tarrant County, where Fort Worth is. (That price tag is more than double the amount of the next most expensive project, a $703 million dollar plan to buy irrigation water in South Texas for municipal use.) Dallas-Fort Worth is also an area of the state that has some of the highest water use in the state when it comes to landscaping.

According to a report by the TWDB, ”during particular years, some households in the Fort Worth area have been observed leaving their automatic sprinkler systems on and watering during the winter months.” From 2004 to 2011, the report says, outdoor watering (mostly landscaping) made up 37 percent of Fort Worth’s water use. In 2011 alone, the driest year in recorded Texas history (and one of the hottest), outdoor watering went up to 45 percent of Fort Worth’s water use. Dallas uses even more water for landscaping, with outdoor watering making up 41 percent of their water use during the 2004-2011 period. San Antonio, by contrast, often cited as the poster child for municipal conservation, had only 25 percent of their water go towards outdoor use during that time.

“We recognize that TWDB developed a list of potential priority water projects based on specific assumptions provided by legislative offices requesting such a list and may not reflect the agency’s perspective,” Ken Kramer, Water Resources Chair, Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, said in an emailed statement. “Moreover, the projects identified are those in the current state and regional water plans, which are undergoing revision. That revision should put a higher priority on meeting actual water needs and not unjustified water demands, should emphasize conservation over infrastructure, and should address environmental flow needs.”

State Sen. Fraser has filed a bill in the Senate, SB 22, that would take $2 billion from the state’s Rainy Day Fund to start a ‘water bank,’ which would provide revolving loans to new water projects. His bill mandates that ten percent of the fund go towards conservation projects, while another ten percent be directed towards rural areas.

A companion bill in the house, HB 11, filed by House Natural Resources Chair Allan Ritter, R-Nederland, would do much the same, but calls for twenty percent of the funding going towards conservation, and doesn’t direct that the money specifically go towards rural projects.

While there are $8 billion in ‘priority’ projects at the moment, and only $2 billion for the fund, it’s important to remember that the fund is being proposed as a revolving loan bank. Principal and interest will be paid back by the projects, which will provide ongoing revenue to the bank. In essence, $2 billion in seed money today can equal the $27 billion needed in state funding for water projects over the next fifty years.

The water bank proposed by the legislature still has some specifics to be worked out. In a panel hosted by StateImpact Texas in January, State Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, who sits on the House Natural Resources Committee, said that the legislature wanted to see money go towards those who are using water wisely.

“We want to make sure that those areas that we are going to focus using this money [on] are maximizing their conservation efforts,” Larson said. “If they’re not, then why would we build something, and those folks aren’t saving the water they have already?”

On the list released this week, conservation makes up about three percent of the funding for the priority projects, according to Environment Texas.

But there are projects on the priority list that would make more of the water we already have, like $302 million for a water reuse project in Austin and a $175 million project in South Texas for “non-potable reuse.” Projects to reduce water losses in irrigation conveyance (how water is distributed to agriculture) make up another $280 million. Also on the list was $1.2 million in municipal conservation projects for North Texas.

“Conservation is the most environmentally responsible path towards meeting out future water needs, but it’s also often the cheapest,” Luke Metzger, the Director of Environment Texas, emailed in a statement Thursday in response to the list of projects. “The Texas Water Development Board should make sure we exhaust our potential to save water and set aside at least half of funding for conservation and re-use programs, reducing water loss, and to purchase water rights to guarantee we leave enough water in our rivers to protect wildlife and recreation.”

Both bills are getting hearings Monday at the State Capitol, in the House and Senate. The meetings are open to the public, and will also be broadcast online.

Comments

  • http://www.facebook.com/neil.moyer1 Neil Moyer

    Utter madness!!!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Chris-Wilkinson/1816671360 Chris Wilkinson

    Ask your water company why they are still wasting 100′s of millions of gallons of precious drinking water when they hydrant flush; while you the customer are required to save every drop?

    Hydrant flushing is a horrific waste of water; it’s a slap in the face to all of the water consumers that are asked to conserve water. Water purveyors should lead by example in water conservation, not flushing hydrants during the worst drought in history! Now, because of drought conditions and population growth, water supplies everywhere are becoming critical. The obvious thing for most cities to do is to cut or
    reduce their hydrant flushing programs, but this short term solution creates a
    double edge sword. Most cities had already cut their water main flushing
    programs years ago, and now they’re starting to pay the hefty price; with dirty
    water distribution mains, which in turn are creating more water quality
    complaints; but now they have less water supplies available to flush, than when
    they cut their flushing programs – so it’s much harder to flush now when they
    really need to!

    NO-DES water Main Flushing technology was created as a solution for the large waste of potable drinking water from hydrant flushing programs throughout the world! The NO-DES system is connected to two hydrants or blow-off’s, the hydrants are then opened and the NO-DES unit is pressurized; the NO-DES system becomes a temporary loop in the distribution system, just as a booster pump system does. The NO-DES pump, circulates water at desired flows in the opposite direction of the natural flow of the main being flushed. This stirs up sediment and scours the inside of the main between the two hydrants only. As the water is circulated within the
    temporary loop by the NO-DES unit it passes through our multi-filtration
    system, which removes particles down to one micron “absolute” in size, and
    disinfectant is added.

    NO-DES
    flushing technology helps save our environment from chemicals, and:
    •It saves between 1 to 6% of all water supplies annually!
    •It saves the energy required to produce, treat, pressurize and deliver the
    water.
    •It improves the water quality to a higher standard than it was before
    delivered.
    •It cleans and scours the insides of the mains more effectively than
    conventional flushing techniques!
    •It eliminates NPDES issues and fines!
    •It increases the safety of the water by increasing the disinfection “in the
    distribution system”.
    •It solves issues with chloramines, removes bio-films and eliminates
    nitrification.
    •It refreshes the water – eliminating water age at dead ends!
    •It helps to reduce DBP’s.
    •It reduces water quality complaints from the CUSTOMER!
    •It eliminates pressure loss and surging (water hammer), reducing main breaks
    and main damages.
    •It eliminates property damage.
    •It improves PR with customers! Cities can lead by example in water
    conservation!
    •NO-DES flushing technology saves money – It pays for itself!
    This is so simple:

    Conventional Flushing Wastes the Water – The water and monies are lost forever!

    NO-DES Flushing Saves the Water – So it pays for itself! And you can make
    money!

    Chris Wilkinson
    NO-DES, Inc.
    http://www.no-des.com

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