Texans have weathered many storms, but these four issues continue to plague a state with vast resources and a spirit of cooperation. Combined, these water challenges have historically devastated communities, agriculture, and the state economy.
You may have heard the saying, “Texas’ weather consists of extended droughts interrupted by severe floods.” It was just such a drought from 1949-1957 that led to the establishment of the Texas Water Development Board. Multi-year droughts aren’t the only challenge here, however. The drought of 2011 resulted in the state’s citizens, municipalities, and agricultural producers using 59 percent of the total available water supply.
The 2017 State Water Plan was issued with a dire warning from Board Chairman Bech Bruun: Texas is never more than about 12 months away from a water crisis.
Texas is situated over a vast network of underground water. The aquifer system was tapped as a seemingly unlimited water resource for agricultural production early in the 19th Century, but now as these large stores of water are diminishing quickly.
We share the Ogallala Aquifer, for instance, with seven other states. For more than 50 years, water has been pumped out of the Ogallala. Now we know that aquifer recharge only occurs over millions of years when left to natural means of water movement through the many layers of soil and rock covering those reservoirs. Texas aquifers are running out of water.
The only naturally occurring lake in Texas is not completely in Texas. Half of it is in Louisiana.
The Texas population and economy have grown exponentially thanks to a vast network of public and private dams. At last count by the National Inventory of Dams, there are 7,324 regulated dams within the state’s borders, and that doesn’t account for significantly more unregulated dams. Many of these structures serve to capture runoff and reduce downstream flooding, but many more aren’t engaged with the grid at all.
Worse yet, Texas dams are aging.
Engineered to last less than 100 years, most of these thousands of essential water grid infrastructure points were constructed in the last 50 to 100 years. The Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board has recognized that the passage of time and a lack of funding to repair the dams is a problem that Texas needs to face sooner, rather than later. A stop-gap funding bill made it through the 86th Texas Legislature in 2019, providing $150 million for the repair and rehabilitation of essential flood control structures. But, that doesn’t address dams that aren’t considered “essential,” and it was a drop in the bucket compared to the funds that would be required to address all of the state’s aging dams.
One water. Solved. Is the solution to all these challenges.