L ake Falcon is now about 22 feet below its conservation pool level. Choke Canyon Lake is more than 23 feet low. Lake Amistad, although much higher than it was a couple of years ago, still laps about 25 feet low. Other Texas lakes are also far below pool level, although few are suffering as much as these. Recent rains have made a big difference, but Texas lakes are still not out of the woods—and the lakes mentioned here continue to drop daily.
Of all the problems we have, and Texas has a few, water maintains a constant spot at the top of the charts. Although the drought seems to have abated somewhat in some areas, it would be a mistake to think our water problems are over—far from it.
No other natural resource is as contested, debated, and fought over. No other dilemma has as much impact on the entire population of the state. Few other commodities are taken for granted to the extent our water is. Few are as easily squandered. And no other asset is more essential to life.
The water issue is certainly not new. Everyone needs water, and always has. The first towns in Texas, and most other places, for that matter, grew up near springs and lakes, and along rivers and creeks. Population centers still hover around readily available water sources to a large extent, perhaps as much out of convenience as necessity.
Water has always played a major role in the lives of Texans, and although we still have fewer water-related issues than some states, the handwriting is on the wall. If we manage our water carefully Texas has a bright future. If we ignore the problem and expect it to solve itself we could be headed for disaster.
One of the problems is that there is confusion over who owns the water in some areas, especially the ground water. The Union of Concerned Scientists issued a report in 2011 stating that more than half of Texas’s water comes from underground aquifers, and that there is debate over who can legally tap those sources, and how the water can be used. The laws are, as yet, not set in stone, and water districts have been formed in many areas in an attempt to regulate water capture and usage.
A main problem with the water districts, however, is a lack of understanding on the part of locals as to the purpose of the organizations. Many are opposed to such districts, thinking they might deny permission to drill water wells for agricultural use, new homestead construction, and livestock consumption. The districts, however, are made up of local residents, themselves, and their purpose is typically to protect the water for those who live, work, farm, and ranch in those same areas. In other words, their goal is to keep the water from being sold and either hauled or piped to other parts of the state.
The Hickory Underground Water Conservation District, for example, was formed during the 1990s for just such a purpose. The Hickory Underground Aquifer lies beneath McCulloch, Mason, and San Saba Counties, and spreads out slightly under Concho, Menard, and Kimble Counties. Were the Hickory Aquifer to dry up, it would be difficult for the residents of the area, especially the three primary counties, to continue to live and operate there.
The HUWCD was formed to help the local residents manage the aquifer, and to oppose the transfer of the water to municipalities lying outside the area, some of which had already bought water rights in McCulloch and Mason Counties. At the time there was no state regulation to prevent the aquifer from being drained for use elsewhere.
Early on, the HUWCD was opposed by some local residents who were worried that, by joining the district, they were handing over their water rights to a government-type bureaucracy. They saw it as a cure which could potentially be worse than the disease. In fits and starts, the district was formed, accepted, and now is a useful tool helping to manage the groundwater in the Hickory Aquifer.
As urban populations continue to grow, as new businesses are attracted from other states by the favorable political climate in Texas, and as, at times, the skies fail to provide rain; the Lone Star State will continue to face problems. The good news is that the Texas Water Development Board is on the case. The bad news is that there is no easy, quick fix for our water problems.
Treated, recycled wastewater is already being used in many places, and TWDB officials expect its consumption to grow in the future. Desalination is an option, although the prohibitive expense has curtailed its implementation in the past. The lower the water levels drop, however, the less we worry about money. You can’t drink a hundred-dollar bill; no matter how hard you try.
The water issue isn’t going away, and a panacea isn’t likely to emerge anytime soon. For now we should all work on being more conservative with our H2O.
And it never hurts to pray for rain.
Email Kendal Hemphill at [email protected]