With each issue, Trib+Water brings you an interview with experts on water-related issues. Here is this week's subject:
Kent Satterwhite is general manager of the Canadian River Municipal Water Authority, a position he has held since 2001. Earlier this month, the authority decided to stop pumping water from Lake Meredith, the Panhandle reservoir that helps supply water to 11 cities in the region including Amarillo and Lubbock. This summer, when the lake was just over 4 percent full, the authority had resumed pumping for the first time since 2011. Satterwhite spoke to The Texas Tribune this week about the decision and the future of the area.
Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Trib+Water: Can you explain the significance of shutting off the pipes to Lake Meredith?
Kent Satterwhite: It doesn’t make much difference to the end user this time of year. The demand’s low, so we can supply what we need out of the groundwater project during this time of year. But it’s really not the way we like to do things. We like to use the lake water when it’s available because it’s what we consider a renewable supply, and the groundwater is essentially nonrenewable. But the lake’s been so low for the past 13, 14 years that we’ve had to change, hopefully temporarily, the way we do business. Now, the groundwater is really our main supply.
Trib+Water: You said this isn’t the way you like to do business, but is this the new normal? It doesn’t seem like the state’s drought status is going to get any better anytime soon.
Satterwhite: We hope it does get better someday, but certainly we can’t count on that. We just have to make do with what we have for now. But no, things haven’t gotten that much better. The lake’s coming up quite a bit, but we’re still only around 4 or 5 percent capacity. So things are pretty bad still.
Trib+Water: What needs to happen in order for you to get back to how you like to run business?
Satterwhite: Well, for one thing, it is as much about water quality as it is about quantity. We need to meet the state drinking water standards. For us, that goal is for chloride to be below 300 mg/L chlorides — the lake is over 800 mg/L chlorides. That’s why we can only blend a little bit of lake water with a lot of groundwater.
The groundwater is real high quality, and that blend still meets state standards. So that’s kind of the limitation — how much lake water can we mix and still meet state standards? Now, if the lake were to come up a bunch it would dilute the salt away, and we might just go 100 percent lake water — if we had that much water and the water was of that quality. I suspect we would, and probably save our groundwater for another day.
Trib+Water: Do you think people who live in the area have started to conserve water, as a result of the low levels at Lake Meredith? Is it becoming more of a forefront issue in people's minds?
Satterwhite: I hope so. I know it is in some of our cities. Some of them just don’t have any choice — they are just out of water and they just have to cut back.
Certainly, there’s been a lot of news about Lake Meredith and the situation we’re in, and certainly across the state and the country, I think people are becoming more aware. But there’s still a lot of work to do.
Trib+Water: What are some of the challenges you see for the area you service going forward?
Satterwhite: I think part of the challenge is just infrastructure right now — it’s in short supply. We’ve had lots of groundwater; we don’t really have enough infrastructure pipelines to get this water to town. We have to add to that infrastructure if we want to keep using water at the pace we’ve been using water. The big one to me is the conservation — that’s a big one.