Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

With Water in the Spotlight, Texas Agriculture Stakes Its Claim

Photo by Mose Buchele for StateImpact Texas

State Rep. Eddie Lucio III spoke at the 2013 Ag Water Forum in Austin.

When the 2013 Texas Ag Water Forum met today, it was no coincidence it met just a few blocks from the State Capitol. As lawmakers grapple with how to fund the State Water Plan, agricultural groups worry that their water needs might be sidelined this legislative session.

There is an emerging consensus among legislators that the state should take around two billion dollars from the Texas Rainy Day Fund to put towards water projects. The Senate bill to do that designates ten percent of the money for rural use, but the House bill does not. The feeling among many of those at the forum was that both bills should set aside funds for rural projects.

“There has to be a way to marry the needs of both agriculture and municipal use, because in reality, they’re married to one another, and it’s just through policy and funding that we do that,” Democratic State Representative Eddie Lucio III, who represents agricultural regions in the Rio Grande Valley told StateImpact Texas.

One way to “marry” city and agricultural spending, according to framing and ranching interests, would be to direct money to conservation technologies for agriculture. Machines that monitor soil moisture, and double drip irrigation methods were showcased at the forum. The Harlingen Irrigation District presented videos on innovative conservation measures that were in part funded by state and federal dollars.

Though the competition between town and country over the state’s limited supplies took center stage, it’s far from the only threat to agricultural water use.

Carolyn Brittin, the Deputy Executive Administrator for the Texas Water Development Board, pointed out that more and more water is being used for oil and gas drilling in Texas as well. The water-intensive drilling method known as hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) now accounts for about one percent of water use in Texas. It’s not a huge slice of the overall pie, but many of the regions where drilling is booming are also some of the state’s most water-starved areas.

“In local areas it is huge, and has a huge impact,” said Brittin. “We’re seeing irrigated [agriculture] provide water to fracking operations. The money is just too good. What are we doing to [agriculture] with that?”
Terrence Henry contributed reporting.


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