Texas Prop 6 would waste billions on water plan

Posted Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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For a plan that purports to thoughtfully guide Texas through a more crowded and thirsty future, the 2012 State Water Plan reads unsettlingly like a playbook from the last century: dams to divert already limp river flows, big pipes pumping rural water hundreds of miles to thirsty city centers and dozens of evaporation-prone reservoirs to fill in for those that have already gone dangerously dry.

The projects to be kicked into gear by the constitutional amendment listed as Proposition 6 on the Nov. 5 ballot offer a solitary and needlessly wasteful version of the future.

Prop 6 would create a funding mechanism to rapidly deploy much of the State Water Plan’s $53 billion in water strategies as prioritized and approved by a recently restructured Texas Water Development Board.

The plan is flawed from its primary assumption that a projected 82 percent population increase by 2060 will require a 22 percent increase in potable water. Texas’ population has more than doubled since 1970 — from 11 million to 26 million — and our water use has remained nearly static at roughly 17 billion acre-feet per year.

The water crisis is being amplified by two political action committees largely funded by energy and chemical companies reliant on large volumes of cheap water. It ignores TWDB’s $360 million in bonding authority granted by voters in 2001 and $6 billion more granted in 2011 — more than enough to cover all of the projects the plan says should be tackled by 2020.

Despite the marketing, this is not a vital vote to secure your future. It’s a vote to loose the state’s purse strings too early on an imperfect plan.

An obvious oversight is the suggestion that the 700,000 acre-feet of water cooling our power plants today must grow to 1.6 million acre-feet in 2060.

Natural gas plants already knocking so many coal units offline use an estimated half of the water of coal, according to a recent University of Texas study, even with all the hundreds of millions of gallons being heedlessly trashed via hydraulic fracturing.

The vastly lighter water footprints of wind and photovoltaic solar sure to be a much larger slice of our energy mix in the decades ahead apparently aren’t figured in.

The plan’s most crucial failure is in funding Big Infrastructure first (the plan’s costliest project is a $3.3 billion reservoir in East Texas to feed Dallas-Fort Worth, 170 miles away) and nimble innovation last, particularly in urban areas, whose thirst is expected to increase 10-fold by 2060.

Dismissed entirely in the water plan is rainwater harvesting. Rainwater, the authors argue simplistically, is moot when drought sets in.

It’s as if it never occurred to this bunch that water not sucked out of an aquifer today because of effective rainwater utilization might come in handy when the skies are less generous.

Permeable asphalt and underground storage can trap water that would otherwise wash downstream in a wave, water that can then flush toilets, water landscapes, fill cooling towers or even directly recharge aquifers.

Dozens of such smart-management approaches will be shortchanged by the Big Pipe projects most familiar to those at the Associated General Contractors of Texas, who ponied up $375,000 for House Speaker Joe Straus’ Water Texas PAC’s ad war and will most certainly be expecting something in return.

Passage of Prop 6 won’t stop serious investment in smart urban conservation measures, but it could delay it for years, until billions have been misspent sacking rural resources that not only provide for numerous smaller communities far from the opulent English lawns of Houston and Dallas but for a wilder natural Texas we are all equally responsible for.

Greg Harman is a San Antonio-based writer. He writes a column, “Lone Star Green,” at harmanonearth.com.

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