‘The silent issue’: Texas’ water problem and the path to solutions

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — As parts of Central and East Texas face flooding this week, it can be easy to forget: Texas has a serious water problem. As hundreds of thousands of new Texans flow into the state every year, state leaders warn the “Texas miracle” is only sustainable as long as the water keeps flowing.

Texas’s population is expected to gain over 22 million people by 2070, according to the 2022 Texas State Water Plan. Over the same period, the water supply is projected to decrease by 18%.

The National Wildlife Federation found Texas loses 572,000 acre-feet of water per year — enough to fill almost 240 AT&T Stadiums and supply Austin, Fort Worth, El Paso, Laredo, and Lubbock combined for an entire year. As Texas regularly faces drought periods, some lawmakers are urging the state to proactively protect the most valuable resource.

“It’s the silent issue, with the least urgency, with the biggest impact,” State Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, said. “We’ve been, for far too long, treating water like a commodity that has no meaning. And it’s truly not. It’s not a commodity. It’s a necessity.”

Last legislative session, Sen. Perry led the way in expanding financial resources for water conservation projects.

Voters approved the The Texas Water Fund by passing Proposition 6 in November. Sen. Perry’s legislation provided $1 billion to fund water projects as part of the plan.

The proposition requires the Texas Water Development Board to set aside at least $250 million for the New Water Supply for Texas Fund. The fund allows municipalities to apply for grants and loans to finance projects intended to produce new water sources for the state.

These projects include desalination technology, aquifer recovery and preservation, new treatment facilities and development of water transportation infrastructure. TWDB says the New Water Supply fund will provide 7 million acre-feet of new water supply by the end of 2033.

“Water is the only problem that we face as a state that can literally be fixed with more money,” Sen. Perry said. “It’s just a commitment to a vision to provide water and a commitment of resources to get there. So that’s been my frustration — it’s not one of those problems that we can’t solve. The lack of urgency to deal with it is frustrating.”

Additionally, the Texas Water Fund provides capital for the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas (SWIFT), Rural Water Assistance Fund, Texas Water Development Fund II and Clean Water or Drinking Water revolving funds. Senate Bill 28 also created an account for statewide water education and mandated a new public technical assistance program.

The Texas Water Development Board is seeking public input to inform rulemaking and other implementation efforts for the Texas Water Fund. The board is accepting feedback via email until April 30.

The Texas Water Fund is intended to help cultivate a “secure water future” for the state throughout the next few decades. TWDB will release a draft of their intended use plan in the summer and allow 30 days for public comment, a timeline similar to the Flood Infrastructure Fund and other comparable programs. The plan is to be approved sometime in the fall, with chosen entities receiving funding soon after.

Sen. Perry says Texas must also lower demand while increasing supply.

“We’ve got to change the mindset on how water is. It’s not infinite source. It is valuable,” he said. “One gallon of water a day saved by 30 million Texans is 30 million gallons. How hard is it for you to get out of the shower 30 seconds early?”

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