by D. Wayne Klotz, PE, D.WRE, President, RPS Klotz Associates
People move to Texas every day. A dip in the energy economy does not reflect a loss of residents. Each and every one of those new residents needs water, and their needs are placed on top of an already stressed water situation in Texas. Since nobody is ready to put a CLOSED sign on our border roads, we have to find water for our new neighbors.
After the famous drought in the 1950s, Texas officials built a number of new reservoirs across the state. These reservoirs are now an essential part of our overall water supply system. The Texas Water Plan includes two dozen new reservoirs to create new water supply. The truth is that water professionals do not believe that more than one or two of those reservoirs will be built. A combination of environmental regulations, property rights, cost escalation and inadequate runoff will preclude new lakes. The question that then must be answered is where our new water will be found.
Fortunately, we have options. The first is the adoption of local rules related to conservation. We can adopt reasonable conservation techniques that will have no impact on customers. We just need local officials to take action.
Another way to increase our water supply is to look at groundwater and surface water as part of the same resource. People cannot tell what type of water flows from their tap. Managing all our water as a single resource will yield big dividends.
A third potential source is desalinization (desal). Most people think that desal is restricted to the Gulf Coast. While coastal waters are an obvious source, Texas is underlain by numerous aquifers that are too “salty” to drink in their natural state. A desal plant can make all of that groundwater available as a new source. The other major source is reuse. After the initial shock wears off, people can understand reuse as an option, particularly in areas of critical need. Texas already has a few reuse plants in operation, and they are working well. Most surface water is reused anyway; we just put it in a river between uses to make it more palatable.
Fortunately, we have the ability to supply the water needs of Texans now and in the future. The truth is that our water will come from different sources, and the cost will increase. The challenge of water professionals is to educate consumers now on how their water bills will change over time. Water is one of the most valuable resources known to mankind, and we are going to have to start acting like it.