New legislation could plug the leaks in the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s (TCEQ) reporting requirements for municipalities running low on water. Right now, a water utility can be nearly tapped out, and it still isn’t required to report the problem.
Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, has filed a bill, HB 252, that would require water utilities to report to the TCEQ if they have less than 180 days of water left. A six-month buffer would give the TCEQ time to help find alternative sources of water.
“Many [water utilities] have come in in an emergency situation where they were reporting they had less than 45 days, and at that point it is pretty hard to work with them to try to find a new source,” said Linda Brookins, Director of the Water Supply Division at the TCEQ, at a House Natural Resources Committee Meeting earlier this week.
As StateImpact Texas has reported, Spicewood Beach, a community about 40 miles north of Austin in Burnet County, epitomizes the problem. That community was within days of running out of water before the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) called the TCEQ to tell them about of the severity of the problem. Before that time, the LCRA had updated the TCEQ website, which is the current protocol. Spicewood Beach’s wells failed, and trucks continue to haul in water each day.
The TCEQ does receive voluntary reporting and most communities participate. Brookins said the TCEQ was able to help 16 water systems avoid running dry by drilling wells, implementing conservation measures and finding alternative sources of water.
The TCEQ’s priority water system (PWS) web page lists hundreds of communities that have voluntarily reported low water and the measures they are taking to conserve. The TCEQ said in an interview with StateImpact Texas that they want communities to let them know as early as possible of problems with their water supplies.
Larson believes the increased reporting could save money in the long run.
“The cost of it is a lot less if you’ve got six months versus 30 days,” Larson said at the meeting.
Authorities will need all the help they can get preparing for water shortages, as the latest National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) drought outlook released today calls for drought conditions to “persist or intensify” over the next few months in much of Texas.
David Barer is a reporting intern with StateImpact Texas.