Let’s talk about water!

The Sierra Club’s Lone Star Chapter proudly co-sponsored the Brazos Valley Water Conservation Symposium on June 20th. The event was co-sponsored with the City of Waco, the Alliance for Water Efficiency, the Texas Water Foundation, the Brazos River Authority, and the National Wildlife Federation. Organized with the intent of educating individuals ranging from policy makers to water utility professionals, the meeting focused on the importance and benefits of practicing viable water conservation planning methods in the state of Texas.  The symposium, entitled “The Business Case for Water Conservation,” presented ways in which the region may meet its water needs through enhanced water conservation.

Ken Kramer kicking off the Brazos Valley Water Conservation Symposium

Toby Baker, the commissioner of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), addressed the immediate need to secure a reliable water supply for Texas stating that it cannot have growth without water availability. He talked about the potential for water conservation as a way to extend our water supply and then explained some of the issues surrounding water conservation. While TCEQ requires water providers to submit drought contingency plans, their capacity to enforce them is very limited. It is critical for water providers and state agencies to work together on conserving water as a way to extend our current water supply and better prepare for future droughts.

The Commissioner was then followed by Comer Tuck, director of the conservation division of the Texas Water Development Board. Mr. Tuck started by communicating to the audience that the year 2011 was the driest and hottest recoded in the history of Texas. Following a talk on the projected population increase, he spoke of the importance of funding the 2012 state water plan, a set of strategies that would help us meet the water demands of future Texans.

Carole Baker (Alliance for Water Efficiency and Texas Water Foundation) focused on myths related to the feasibility of performing water conservation. Common beliefs, such as water shortages being temporary problems that will disappear with time, do not reflect  their real nature. Instead, they are ongoing issues.  She then disproved the notion of current development being efficient by explaining that new properties use 20-60% more water. Ms. Baker concluded by clarifying that “wasting water is not economically feasible.”

Mark Peterson, coordinator for outdoor programs at the San Antonio Water System, spoke of the successful implementation of water conservation strategies in the City of San Antonio.  So what does it mean when it is said that the city is “on board” with conservation? It translates to meeting the water demands of a population 60% larger with the same amount of water supplied by the city during the 1980s.

Mr. Peterson explained that adopting the perspective of ongoing water conservation as being “a source of water” is crucial and that regulations are by no means a form of public punishment during dry times.  Another unique approach was perceiving customers as being part of San Antonio’s “conservation team“.  The reader should keep in mind that while water conservation practices in San Antonio are credited as being successful, the variability of the water sources and infrastructure of every water utility is different. That said, San Antonio can serve as a great model for other cities.

Lorrie Reeves, a representative of the Water Efficiency Network of North Texas, then talked about the benefits of creating local networks of water utility professionals and water conservation experts.  These networks consist of municipalities, water providers, and water conservation advocates that meet on a regular basis throughout the year. The purpose of these coalitions is to regionally reduce water use by working together to promote water efficiency education, programs, legislation and technologies and openly and actively share information and best practices. Through the networks, entities are able to efficiently share knowledge and exchange information. For example, by sharing strategies and goals with one another, the North Texas network  pooled their resources to educate the general public about irrigation strategies for clay soil (specific to the region).

Jennifer Walker leading the panel on the implementation of water conservation strategies in different Texas municipalities

While the success of water conservation programs and progress being made in numerous parts of the state of Texas  was apparent through the conference, the importance of coupling these programs and any restrictions with stronger education programs was a consistent theme that should be given future consideration.  Most water consumers do not understand the amount of water that is needed to keep a lawn healthy and often use too much, making it important to educate the public about the lack of need to irrigate extensively (Toby Baker).

-Hector Varela, Water Policy Intern

Special thanks to Jennifer Walker and Joanna Wolaver

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