April 18, 2014
New report shifts water focus to conservation, not reservoirs
by Andrew Scoggin
Apr 01, 2013 | 744 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Photo by Andrew Scoggin

Trammell Crow, founder of Earth Day Dallas, speaks to the crowd gathered at White Rock Lake.
Photo by Andrew Scoggin Trammell Crow, founder of Earth Day Dallas, speaks to the crowd gathered at White Rock Lake.
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With Texas reeling from drought in two consecutive summers, an environmental research group says the state should focus on saving to secure the state’s water supply. And by saving, it’s not just taking shorter showers.

A report released by Environment Texas Research and Policy Center last week says the state should make significant investments in water conservation greater, the group says, than those planned by a state board and being discussed in the state legislature.

Texas could save 500 billion gallons of water by 2020 if state officials adhere to policy recommendations made by the group, according to the report. That includes financial incentives, education and, above all, eschewing new reservoirs in favor of conservation efforts.

“We can’t control when it rains, but we can control how we use our water,” Jennifer Rubiello, Dallas-Fort Worth organizer with the research group, said at a news conference at White Rock Lake. “Our report comes at a critical point in Texas’ water future.”

The research group, an arm of statewide advocacy group Environment Texas, says the state should use at least half of its water funds for conservation, reuse, water main repairs and to purchase water rights.

The Texas Water Development Board, in a 2012 report, says its recommended projects need $53 billion, with $26.9 billion in funds directly from the state.

Two bills currently in the Texas Legislature to fund the water board’s 2012 plan would direct fewer, albeit not insignificant, funds toward conservation than desired by Environment Texas. HB 4, which last week passed through a House committee, would set aside 20 percent of funding, while SB 4 calls for “not less than 10 percent.”

The state water board’s plan sets forth projections and recommendations for funding through 2060.

For instance, the board says Texas’ population will increase 82 percent by that year, adding strain on top of those already in place. If recommended projects, including 26 major reservoirs aren’t funded, the board says meeting water demand could cost the state $115.7 billion.

Ultimately the Texas Legislature “will make those kinds of decisions” on funding, Water Development Board spokeswoman Merry Klonower said.

The proposed reservoirs make up a fraction of the added water capacity by 2060, according to the state water board. The reservoirs account for roughly 16 percent, while conservation efforts, including reuse and conservation in irrigation and municipalities, are nearly one-third. Conservation would save roughly 600 billion gallons a year by 2020 and 1 trillion gallons a year by 2060, according to the board.

Environment Texas’ research side, however, would prefer a bigger role for conservation and says the state can bolster water supplies without mass construction of reservoirs, which carries greater environmental effect.

The release of the group’s report comes a week after a federal judge ruled Texas didn’t do enough to protect endangered whooping cranes in the Guadalupe River, a major water source in South Texas.

The report, titled “Keeping Water in Our Rivers,” recommends Texas take a number of actions, including enacting incentive programs for consumers, pushing for landscaping with native plants and replacing freshwater with recycled in “fracking” for fuels.

Andrew Quicksall, an engineering professor at SMU, called the report “truly outstanding” and said its research methodology was legitimate.

Whatever the effort, it’ll be a tough task to get Texans adhere to such changes. Trammell Crow, founder of Dallas’ Earth Day celebrations, said the state isn’t known “for thinking about our environment,” but he said Texans must act in the face of limited supply.

Quicksall, who attended the news conference but said he’s not affiliated with Environment Texas, compared water conservation to the budget battles nationally. There’s a feeling, he said, that the United States must cut back on “opulence” and be more “conservative” with resources. He said that same logic should apply to water.

“A lot of what you’re seeing right now is over exuberance,” Quicksall said. “Why are we not efficient with our natural resources?”

Tracy Wallace, who moved to Dallas after college in 1985, said it will take a cultural change to get families to think about water like they do money. She said her water interest comes from being a sixth-generation Texan, but also from a concern for her children.

“I want it to be here for the generations I’ll never meet,” Wallace said. “What right to it do we have more than they?”
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