Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

What Happens When Water Runs Out?

Erich Schlegel/Getty Images

A statue stands in front of the remnants of a burned down home outside Bastrop, Texas.

They are numbers familiar to us by now: billions in losses, millions of acres burned, record high temperatures, and record low rainfall during our current drought.

Some towns in Texas are now asking the big question: How long do we have until we run out of water?

“We haven’t had that situation yet,” says Andrea Morrow, a spokesperson for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). “There hasn’t been a scenario yet where someone’s completely run out.”

But is that scenario coming?

Today’s Texas Tribune reports on the small town of Groesbuck, east of Waco, which gets all of its water from the Navasota river. The river is 44 inches below its normal level, the town is currently listed as an emergency priority by the TCEQ and could be out of water by the end of the month. Will they really run out?

“There are too many variables” to know for sure, says Morrow.

It’s generally the responsibility of the water system to get a constant supply to their people. “They let us know if they’re in trouble,” she says. “We want them to tell us that prior to the 180 day mark.” From there, the TCEQ works with local water systems like the one in Groesbeck to avoid completely running out of water. “You can pipe water in from another system. You can drill wells, you can move pumps. But there’s no substitute for rain,” says Morrow.

And when there are emergencies, such as a pipeline break, then the TCEQ’s emergency management steps in. There are instructions on their website for drilling emergency wells, connecting to other water systems, and even a list of licensed water haulers.

The TCEQ maintains a list of public water systems and their levels of water supply and drought restrictions. “It changes daily,” Morrow says. “Both for good and bad. Some towns come off and some come on.” There are no towns currently listed as out of water, but three are at the next closet stage, “emergency.”

Here’s a map the Texas Tribune put together of the current list:


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