EPA/LARRY W. SMITH /LANDOV
An old radio lies in the mud exposed after the water has gone at Lake Arrowhead State Park near Wichita Falls, Texas, in September 2013
With nearly 70 percent of the state still stuck in a drought that has dragged on for years, there’s been plenty of talk about how to strengthen water supplies in Texas. A multi-billion-dollar water fund (the passage of Proposition 6 last election) is in the works that will help fund projects like reservoirs, desalination and conservation. And there’s ongoing discussion and debate about the elephant in the aquifer: ways to change how groundwater is regulated, which took up a whole day of testimony at the state legislature this week. But that’s not all.
Beyond those two big-ticket items — how to pay for water supplies and how to regulate water underground — there are some other smaller challenges the state faces when it comes to water. At a hearing by the House Natural Resources Committee Thursday, several state agencies told lawmakers about the water challenges they’re dealing with. Here’s five issues that caught our attention:
1. ‘Toilet to Tap’ Could Mean Drier Rivers Downstream
Water reuse is picking up in Texas, but it could create problems for downriver communities. Customers currently pump treated wastewater back into a river, where its carried downstream to be treated and used again, but better techniques and technologies in water reuse are upsetting that system. Now communities like Wichita Falls in North Texas are moving towards direct wastewater reuse, and when that happens, there’s less water flowing downstream. Continue Reading
Graphic by Todd Wiseman/Texas Tribune
The Lower Colorado River Authority has to meet Central Texas Water demands even as the supply dwindles.
As summer sets in and drought drags on, the growing burden of a strained water supply is weighing on Texans in the Lower Colorado River Basin.
The board of directors for the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA), the quasi-state organization that controls water from that basin, voted unanimously on Wednesday to raise water prices for some customers and to not release water downstream to farmers for a third consecutive year.
“The drought rate is needed to cover our cost during the drought when we’re selling less water to many of our customers and other utilities that have large fixed costs that don’t change based on the weather,” said John Hofmann, Executive Vice President of Water at LCRA.
A fracking operation in the Barnett Shale.
Millions of gallons of water from hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” could be treated and reused without extra energy costs using gas that is typically burned off at drilling sites, according to a new study by a team of scientists at the University of Texas at Austin.
Enough natural gas is burnt on site to fuel energy-intensive treatment for highly-contaminated water, making for a handy ‘Two Birds, One Stone’ opportunity, the study by UT’s Webber Energy Group finds.
“You’ve got two environmental problems: extra energy that is flared and a lot of dirty water. You put them together, and you solve two problems at once,” says Michael Webber, Deputy Director of UT’s Energy Institute and co-author of the study.
Reusing fracking wastewater treated by gas that would usually be flared instead could supply the equivalent of three to nine percent of the state’s yearly urban water demand, according to Kelly Sanders, a co-author of the study. As Texas drought persists and water supplies are strained, the revelation that unused natural gas could fuel treatment may compel drillers to pay more to reuse their water. But the technology’s not quite there yet. Continue Reading
Photo by REUTERS /JOSHUA LOTT /LANDOV
A man walks along Lake Travis after water receded during a drought in Austin, Texas September 10, 2011.
The combined storage of the Highland Lakes is expected to approach its record low – 30 percent full – by the end of this summer. After that, forecasters say, the El Niño weather pattern could bring some relief. But how much rain would it take to get them full again?
The total volume of water in the Highland Lakes, the main reservoir for a million people in and around Austin, fell to its lowest level since 1952 (during Texas’ multi-year drought of record) in September 2013. Water flowing into the Highland Lakes hit record lows — just ten percent the annual average — in 2011, Texas’ driest year on record.
Historically, low levels like the ones we’re seeing now have been corrected by massive rain events.
The last time the lakes were full was 2007, after 19 inches of rain fell in just 6 hours over Marble Falls, known as the ‘Marble Falls Rain Bomb.’ The drought of record in the 1950’s also ended with massive floods, and in 1981 storms dumped up to 11 inches of rain in around three hours in the Memorial Day floods.