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Draft Water Plan: Texas "Will Not Have Enough"

The Texas Water Development Board's just-released 295-page report says that if Texas does not spend tens of billions more on water infrastructure, a drought as bad as that of the 1950s could cost Texans $116 billion per year by 2060.

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Every five years, the Texas Water Development Board publishes a water plan for the state. The 295-page draft of the 2012 plan, published last week in the midst of the worst-ever single-year drought Texas has ever experienced, is a sobering read.

"The primary message of the 2012 state water plan is a simple one," the introduction states. "In serious drought conditions, Texas does not and will not have enough water to meet the needs of its people, and its businesses, and its agricultural enterprises."

The report is packed with data and projections, but a few stand out. The state population, now 25 million, is expected to increase to 46 million by 2060. During that time, existing water supplies will fall 10 percent as the Ogallala and other aquifers are depleted.

If Texas does not plan ahead, a drought as bad as that of the 1950s could cost Texans $116 billion a year by 2060, the report says, and cause the potential loss of more than one million jobs.

Building new reservoirs and wastewater treatment plants and other water infrastructure is projected to cost $53 billion.

There's a bit of good news: Demand for water is projected to rise by only 22 percent by 2060 — in other words, less quickly than population growth. That's partly due to expected declines in agricultural usage.

The report offered a number of recommendations to the Legislature. Texas lawmakers, it said, should get moving on three reservoir sites (Turkey Peak Reservoir, Millers Creek Reservoir Augmentation and Coryell County Reservoir). Lawmakers should also make it easier to site other reservoirs, and to transfer surface water between different areas. They should require public water utilities to audit their water losses annually rather than every five years.
The TWDB also asked lawmakers to remove it from handling petitions protesting the results of a new groundwater planning tool called "desired future conditions," which refers to the projected health of the aquifer in 50 years.

On climate change, the report states:

"In Texas, temperatures are likely to rise; however, future precipitation trends are difficult to project. If temperatures rise and precipitation decreases, as projected by climate models, Texas would begin seeing droughts in the middle of the 21st century that are as bad or worse as those in the beginning or middle of the 20th century."

The report says that irrigation now accounts for 60 percent of water demand in Texas, but as cities grow its share is expected to drop to 45 percent by 2060.

Some of the TWDB's projections for "mining," a category that includes natural gas drilling, "were developed before the boom in natural gas extraction extended to some eastern and southern areas of the state late in the last decade," the report said.

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