More Than a Rain Dance: One Lawmaker’s Plan for a Thirsty State

Photo courtesy of Rep. Larson

Texas State Representative Lyle Larson has big plans for a thirsty state.

Texas residents know from first-hand experience that you can’t control Mother Nature. Despite endless months of hopeful optimism, they’ve had little to no luck coaxing the skies to give us the extended rains we so desperately need. Even recent deluges have hardly put a dent in lake and river levels. With one town on the verge of completely running out of water, citizens of the Lone Star state can’t be blamed for expressing pessimism about their chances for a wet spring.

But what about making the most of the water we already have?

Lyle Larson, Texas State Representative for San Antonio, has a plan that involves much more than a rain dance. Called the Emergency Water Act, the proposal contains a set of guidelines for state-wide desalination, cloud-seeding, and aquifer storage. Modeled after tactics adopted in the past by equally rain-strapped governments in Australia, India, and Argentina, the plan aims to offset the drought by immediately revamping the state’s water infrastructure.

I sat down recently to ask Rep. Larson about the inspiration behind the Emergency Water Act and his vision for an economically-developed, technologically-innovative, and above all, wetter, Texas.

Q: Could you explain what this plan is about and what motivated it?

A: The Emergency Water Plan involved looking at what Texas can do if we experience the drought of 2011 in 2012. All the climatologists are indicating that 2012 will be as dry or dryer than 2011.

The Emergency Plan basically controls our own destiny by building desalination plants in close proximity to the population centers. I’d like to create public partnerships with the ground water districts, the public utilities, and the river basins to help foster the development of projects as well as public-private partnerships; people like Dow Chemicals that basically are the foremost experts on desalination. Start building plants with them [that] will provide seed capital for the state of Texas. Not to do anything I think is irresponsible for everybody that’s in Austin. We need to step up and start being proactive in developing these resources. If not, then effectively we’re going to have a difficult time recruiting jobs to Texas.

If you look at “cloud-seeding” and the availability of water from the storms that do come across the state of Texas over the last 14 years, the data says that we got between 20 and 30 percent more rainfall out of the clouds when we do seed them. So we can bring more water to the canvas of the state of Texas, which will do a number of things.

It will replenish rivers and lakes and also help on the recharge on your groundwater. And it will hopefully abate some of the wildfires because you’re going to have more moisture in the ground.

Right now, one-sixth of the landmass in the state of Texas is using cloud-seeding. I think that we need to expand that program and that’s something that we can literally do overnight.

The last program that I’d like to implement is an aquifer storage and recovery process. We got about 700,000 feet [of water] that’s flowing out of the Sabine and Neches to the coast that basically nobody is asking for and it’s unpermitted. We can take that water and start storing it in aquifers… and hold it for as long as you want it.

Q: Why is what we are currently doing possibly not going to be enough if we see another year like this?

A: Everybody talks about the 1950s drought as the drought of record. We have three times the population — 25 million — now. We have an industrial complex that requires a lot more water. We have a lot more agricultural production. So if you look at it and base it on the four-year drought of the 1950s, we’re in the same predicament now, based on the fact that we have more population drawing the water.

You look at the ground water depletions – our river basin levels and our lake levels – we’re at historic lows for most everything that we are monitoring right now. And now we are looking at another year of a drought, I think that the state has to get innovative.

I think the State of Texas, as the seventh largest economy, should be willing to use the Emerging Technology Fund and the Rainy Day fund in seeding these projects.

Q: Even if the drought ends, we’re going to need more water supplies given our growth. Are there things in here that can guide us in the future, independent of the drought?

A: These projects complement the state water plan that was rolled out a couple weeks ago. Essentially, we have to bring about four million acre-feet of water to the State of Texas between now and 2060 with the population projections that we have. We can’t afford to do nothing, otherwise folks aren’t going to come here cause we’re not going to have adequate water.

If you look at the stress on our groundwater – if you look at Lake Travis, where it’s essentially about forty percent full, and then lakes in West Texas that supplied water for municipalities that completely dried up – we’re going to have to get more creative and start using models that have been effective in other parts of the country.

Q: You mentioned, maybe ironically, that the Rainy Day Fund could be handy in a drought. Is that how you’re looking to finance this?

A: Well, I think twofold. One of them is the Emerging Technology Fund, which is used primarily to recruit companies into the State of Texas. The second one would be the Rainy Day Fund, since the end of the [last] session and the first of January we’ve seen a 1.1 billion dollar-increase in the Rainy Day Fund.

I don’t think you could have a better use for the fund to capitalize on projects that we could quickly build to protect the infrastructure of the State of Texas from a water standpoint.

This interview was edited for clarity and style.

Yana Skorobogatov of KUT News contributed research to this article.

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