Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

Five Things You Might Not Know About Water in Texas

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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.


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