Tag Archives: water

October storms kicking drought to the curb?

Aside from our lust garden boxes and rinsing off pollen from our cars the storms in mid-October added roughly 50,000 acre-feet to lakes Travis and Buchanan, pushing the lakes’ combined storage to more than 700,000 acre-feet for the first time since August 2011. 2011 was the driest year ever for Texas, with an average of only 14.8 inches of rain. The only comparable drought occurred during the 1950s, but no single year during that drought was as dry as 2011. It rained really hard here in Austin, but we can’t capture or store that water. We have no way to stop it from flowing downstream.stevie ray vahn at auditorium shores

The weekend storms are a good illustration of why the lower Colorado River basin needs not just rain, but rain in the right spot, to significantly increase the region’s water supply.

Parts of Austin were hit with as much as 12 inches of rain over the Oct. 12 weekend, turning Barton Creek into a raging river and flooding areas of South Austin. The heaviest rain fell in Austin near Barton Creek, which empties into Lady Bird Lake downstream of Lake Travis. That water cannot be captured downstream of Mansfield Dam in the Highland Lakes reservoirs and is flowing down the Colorado River toward Matagorda Bay, this influx of fresh water will help the health of Matagorda Bay.

It’s critical for rain to fall upstream of Austin in the lakes’ watershed. This is an 11,700 square-mile area upstream of Austin and stretching to the north and west out past Fredericksburg, Junction, Brady and San Saba. Lakes upstream of Austin, Lake Travis and Lake Buchanan, only gained about 20,000 acre-feet of water from the storm, most of that was in to Lake Travis.  The measurement there was acre-feet, by definition one acre-foot is 43,560 U.S. survey cubic feet. To us that’s less than 2 percent of the water needed to refill the lakes. But the lakes’ combined storage is 35 percent of capacity, still there is no end to the drought in sight.

 LCRA’s idea is to build a reservoir in Wharton County near the Gulf Coast with the intention to take advantage of rain events like these in the future, so that the flows that enter the Colorado River downstream of Lake Travis can be held for later use. The new reservoir is expected to be complete by 2017.

Nobody is singing rain rain go away come back another day. We have all experienced the drought as it’s has helped drain reservoirs , fuel wildfires, ruin crops and put a real strain on the state’s electric grid. bastrop fire

In February 2013, the state climatologist told the Texas Legislature that high temperatures related to climate change have exacerbated the drought. He said that the state temperature has increased by an average of about 2 degrees Fahrenheit since the 1970s.

This is what we looked like as of April 2011

This U.S. Drought Monitor map is released each week.

Meanwhile, I’m going to  learn a step or two from the indigenous as they managed to make it through the sizzling summers without our technology, but as always we’ll take any and all rain.

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Future of Water in Texas

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Unless you have been living under a rock for the last several years, you probably have heard that Texas has been facing a severe water crisis. You don’t need to be an expert hydrologist to understand this; after all this is Texas, where sizzling temperatures and dry conditions have always been a part of living in the desert southwest.

Most of you will remember that 2011 was the driest year in Texas history; the state reportedly only averaged 14.88 inches of rainfall that year. However, this is not the first time the state has faced water crises of that magnitude. In 1917, Texas averaged only .11 inches higher than in 2011, making average rainfall for that year only 14.99 inches. These numbers indicate a continuous struggle that Texas has had with water preservation for several decades, so it’s time for Texans to take action on a better water plan for the state.

Earlier this year, the Texas State Legislature passed a resolution that will allow the state to use its Rainy Day Fund to finance $2 billion dollars’ worth of water projects across Texas (referred to as the State Water Implementations Fund or “SWIFT”). That measure will be put up to Texas voters as constitutional amendment (Proposition 6) for the November 5th election. This ballot measure will be Texas’ first attempt to finance a statewide, long-term plan for water supply and water conservation.

So if voters were to approve this effort, what would that mean for Texans? Here is some language, as taken from the Prop 6 official website:

“The constitutional amendment providing for the creations of the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas and the State Water Implementation Revenue Fund for Texas to assist in the financing of priority projects in the state water plan to ensure the availability of adequate water resources.”

Enabling legislation that becomes law if Prop 6 passes provides that:

  • Not less than 20% of the funds shall go to water conservation or reuse projects;
  • Not less than 10% of the funds shall go to water projects in rural areas, which may include agricultural water conservation projects;
  • Only projects called for in the regional and state water plans will be eligible for this funding, and those projects must be prioritized at the regional and state levels based on factors such as cost-effectiveness and the effect of the project on water conservation and prevention of water losses.

So on November 5, voters have the opportunity approve billions of dollars to craft a borrowing-and-lending system for water projects here in Texas. There does not appear to be a specific list of projects that will be given the green light assuming this plan passes, this amendment would simply allow voters to put state money into a fund for water supplies and water conservation.

How the money will be apportioned is still unknown,” said Ronald Kaiser to the Houston Chronicle, “people are putting all their faith in the water board.” Kaiser is Professor of Water Law and Policy at Texas A&M University.

The 2012 version of the State Water Plan highlights 562 water projects; which include reservoirs, water treatment, and watershed protection roughly costing $53 billion dollars, of which the state would be expected to provide loans for half of that amount (the loans would have to be paid back to the state by local and regional water suppliers). This high cost, which could be pared by more aggressive water conservation efforts, indicates that the state needs to be smart about allocating the necessary funds to complete proposed projects and needs to evaluate projects more closely.

Last week, Governor Perry took the stand in North Texas, urging voters to pass Prop 6. With the state population expected to double in the next five decades, Governor Perry has rounded up a bi-partisan group of supporters to rally for the passage of Proposition 6 in Texas.

Through this process we’re going to be able to turn two billion dollars in seed money that’s in the Rainy Day Fund into 30-billion dollars’ worth of water projects across our state,” he said.  “We can’t make it rain, but we can take measure to extend our existing water supply and work to develop new supplies.”

Rifling through the endorsements of proposition 6, one can find quite the laundry list of corporations, businesses, non-profits, and environmental advocates all throwing their name in the hat in support of this amendment.

Some of the organizations that have endorsed Prop 6 include: the League of Women Voters, The Nature Conservancy, Texas AFL-CIO, Ducks Unlimited, numerous businesses and trade associations, the Texas Farm Bureau, as well as the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. The diversity of support for this measure reflects the critical need to plan for our future water resources wisely in an increasingly drought-plagued state.

The Sierra Club supports passage of Prop 6 because of the commitment that state legislators have made to water conservation and to prioritization of water projects in the administration of the new state water funds,” said Ken Kramer, State Water Resources Chair of the Sierra Club, “It is important that the commitments to conservation are honored in the implementation of Prop 6, but voter approval of Prop 6 will be an important first step toward meeting the state’s water needs, and we urge Texas voters to cast their ballots for Prop 6.”

The answer is clear: Texas definitely needs to act on its water crisis problem. We all can agree that with a growing population and increasingly drier weather conditions, water needs to be at the forefront of our priorities here in the state.

Click HERE to view the official press release from the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club.

Early voting: October 21 – November 1

Election Day: November 5.  

Oil & Gas and Water

Safe Climate Caucus Forum, 10 am, September 17, 2013:  

Hugh Fitzsimons, Carrizo Springs, TX

My name is Hugh Fitzsimons. I ranch in Dimmit County, Texas, a hundred and fifty miles southwest of San Antonio and nine miles east of the Rio Grande River. We are dead on the 100th meridian, the historic dividing line between wet and dry. The Spanish maps from the early 18th century labeled this country the “despoblado” …. “no man’s land.” No one wanted it, save for the native Coahuiltecans, who fit with a land forever on the edge of drought. It’s long been a land of environmental extremes – feast or famine – but a reckoning now seems at hand.
My grandfather bought the ranch in 1932 for two things a cattleman needs:
abundant native grasses and good, clean, underground water. He came to it after roping wild steers on the prairies and river bottoms of Gonzales County, Texas. But he had an itch to get rich, so in 1901 he hung up his rope to head for Texas’ thriving oil field: Spindletop. That oil field ushered in the internal combustion engine.
By the 1930’s, tired of the oil business, grandfather started life anew. For twenty five years, he raised registered Hereford and Angus cattle and summered steers in the flint hills of Kansas, selling them grass fat to the U.S. Army.
But in 1951, we began what has been called the “drought of record” — a seven year stretch without moisture. One day, on the front porch of the bunkhouse, my grandfather declared: “I am leaving this ranch, and I am not coming back till it rains.” He never came back, and we had no significant rain for another three years. My father recognized the signs. For the next thirty years, he ran a Hereford and Red Brahma cow calf operation – and leased land for hunting and for exploration of oil and gas.
After a career teaching Texas history, I moved back to the ranch fifteen years ago, in 1998, to work with nature, not against her. I settled on two avenues of production.
For the first, I chose the American Buffalo or bison, an indigenous animal with the means to survive. Here was a low-maintenance, self-sustaining herbivore, whose 10,000-year evolution prepared it for what climate change was sending my way.
For the second, I chose honey. I contracted with beekeepers to harvest the nectar of our native guajillo bush. All that was required was water, bees, and the guajillo blooms. In a normal year, we will make fifty to one hundred pounds per colony of bees.
Thirteen years ago, in 2000, things changed: less rainfall, milder winters and blazing hot summers. The wake-up call came in 2011 –the single worst drought year in Texas history. We had plummeting water wells,the desiccation of our rivers and surface water, and a punishing summer of over 100 degrees for three solid months. The bison were getting worried; the bees were starving to death.
By April of last year, when we should have seen seventy to one hundred baby bison calves nursing their mothers, but we had a grand total of: seven. It was so dry, the female bison wouldn’t go into estrus. I had to cull over two thirds of the herd. We burned pear for the remainder, and the remaining bison ate mesquite beans from July to September.
And while a normal honey crop for me is around seventy-five barrels, by this spring, I made a grand total of: two. The fall without rain last year dried up the moisture the guajillo needed to set a bloom– something no regional beekeeper had ever seen. There is always at least some bloom. Not any more.
At the same time, one of the largest oil and gas plays in the world has landed in Dimmit County. Fracking in the Eagle Ford shale has wrought more change in two years than the past two hundred. Our tax revenue, population, and public school enrollment are surging like a runaway eighteen-wheeler. Oil and gas production are up 134% over a year ago. Most of the oil workers are imports from East Texas. The price of a rental house is now out of reach for most citizens of Dimmit County.
But the hard facts are these: 1/3 of our available groundwater in Dimmit County per year is being lost to fracking. Because the water used to inject the chemicals is absorbed by the formation, this process is 100% consumptive, unless the 20% that returns as flowback water is recycled, all that water is lost. Unlike agricultural irrigation, fracking wastewater is lost completely. In short, we have a new, man-made water crisis etched atop the man-made crisis of climate change that produced the drought.
For years our normal rainfall was around 21 inches a year. A hydrologist tells me that unless we get between 15 to 17 inches of rain a year,there is no recharge. So we are now using up 1/3 of our groundwater a year, when we’ve had virtually no recharge for three years. We’re running on empty. The forecast under climate change, is for 12 to 15 inches of rain a year. In short, our water is being drained to produce the oil and gas that have produced a worldwide climate crisis.

There are moments in life that turn you. Mine came in spring a year ago, when I flipped on the switch for my irrigation pump and got half the water I’d been producing before.
From my irrigation pump, I could see no fewer than four drilling rigs, each of them sucking 3-5 million gallons of fresh water per frack. My fresh water was being drained, and there seemed nothing I could do about it.
My anger made me run for office as a director of the Wintergarden Water Conservation District. Somehow, I prevailed and started to learn water law, rule of capture, and how to start the energy companies conserving water. The problem is, in our district, oil and gas are exempt from the permitting process. In other words, we, the designated water authorities, are nearly powerless to conserve and protect the water on which all of life depends.
Dimmitt County, as you may have gathered, has never been well off. Now, we face two new threats. First, is the vacuuming up of our water for fracking, and removing it from the hydrologic cycle. The second threat is just as serious. Because the riches of oil and gas production are falling like manna from heaven, no one wants to talk about our water – least of all, state regulators — even if our water’s disappearing.
To explain: in order to dispose of toxic wastewater from fracking, wells are injected deep into the earth. If the wells are correctly constructed and in the right geologic formation, they’re reasonably safe. The problem is: there are from 10,000 to 100,000 abandoned oil and gas wells in the state, and Texas regulators have no idea where and how many there are. But if an injection well for fracking wastewater is drilled near an abandoned old well, and its well casing or cement job gives way, toxic waste from the disposal can migrate to the old well, flow up the pipe, and contaminate the groundwater.
Our water district has made protesting these injection wells a top priority. But when I last appeared this summer before state regulators, they didn’t want to hear about it, The examiner and judge labeled our hydrologist’s questions “hearsay,” and my invoking those questions was stricken from the record. In other words, denial is not just a river in Egypt. It was one thing to have the disposal well company ignore our questions. When the judge declared the disposal well company didn’t have to answer our questions because the law didn’t require it, it became clear that the denial in our state is as deep as the injection wells.
One subject I feel fairly comfortable with is Texas history. From that history, it’s clear the oil business is here to stay. For the time being, so am I.
What we need is hydrocarbon extraction, under responsible rules and regulation that protect our vanishing groundwater. Without it, over-extraction will become the epitaph of the American West. As the poet Gary Snyder once said: “Just remember, nature bats last.”

Proposed EPA Regulation could force Cleaner Energy and Protect Health

In a world and nation where water and energy are two things our growing population is starving for, an issue that combines both is of the utmost importance. This is why I’d love to inform you about a recent regulation proposed by the EPA that would place limits on the amount and type of toxic metals and other pollutants that can be discharged by steam electric power plants (coal, oil, and natural gas) into our waterways. These regulations, dubbed Effluent Limitation Guidelines, will have the greatest effect on coal plants so I will address it as pertaining to coal henceforward.

Toxic waste discharged from power plant

Toxic waste discharged from a coal plant

This bill is extremely important in guiding the future state of human and environmental health as well as the phasing into cleaner sources of energy. It is going to be implemented but what has yet to be decided is which option out of four will be chosen to be implemented. “The four options are based on varying levels of treatment for seven different waste streams generated by the plants and differ in the stringency of the treatment controls to be imposed” said the congressional research service. There are allegations being made that the White House Office of Management and Budget is attempting to weaken the proposed standards in response to coal industry demands. The coal industry will obviously be fighting for the least strict regulations, which brings in the underdog, “we the people”, to stand up for more regulated water pollution.

I will now make a claim as to why it is so important that the strongest regulation (option 4 out of 4), which will reduce annual pollutant discharge by 2.62 billion pounds and reduce annual water usage by 103 billion pounds, needs to be implemented.

These regulations need to be in the strongest form possible because, as a study conducted  in North Carolina by Duke University revealed, coal plants have implemented scrubbers and other technologies to reduce the amount of toxic air pollution (coinciding with the Clean Air Act) but those pollutants are just ending up in the waste water that the coal plants produce, defeating the purpose of the “CLEAN” Air Act. The study also uncovered other disturbing information: the highest concentration of contaminants were found in a waste water pond that was being directly released into a primary drinking water source for Charlotte, North Carolina. After testing the water, the scientists found a couple of areas that exceeded the EPA guidelines for safe drinking water and aquatic life. These unhealthy levels were also found in two popular recreational lakes in the northern part of the state. This is just 1 example.

Why doesn’t the Clean Water Act regulate this water pollution problem?

For one, existing guidelines that limit the pollutants emitted into the water by coal plants have not been updated in over 30 years. Also, many regulators have said the Clean Water Act is inadequate because is does not mandate limits on the most dangerous chemicals in power plant waste and it is also claimed to have loopholes that the energy industry takes advantage of. In addition to that, 90% of 313 coal plants that have violated the Clean Water Act since 2004 were not fined or penalized by federal or state regulators, according to a New York Times Analysis of EPA records.

There is countless information that supports the need for this nation-wide water pollution regulation in its strongest form, so I proceed… Here is a link to fish consumption advisories in Texas due to water pollution. All the water bodies surrounding my hometown, including some I have previously caught fish in (and eaten), are polluted with the following advisory given for a couple: “Persons should not consume any species of fish from these waters”.  Although coal plants cannot be solely blamed for this (as it is hard to trace back pollution), they are definitely a large contributing factor. Some other unfortunate statistics found in a report produced by a coalition of environmental and clean water groups: “Of the 274 coal plants that discharge coal ash and scrubber waste water into waterways, nearly 70% (188), have no limits on the amount of toxic metals like arsenic, mercury, boron, cadmium, and selenium they are allowed to dump into public waters.” When you consider this pollution which produces horrible health effects such as reduced growth and development, cancer, organ damage, nervous system damage, and death, one begins to hope that policy decisions regarding this pollution are really going to be made on our behalf.

I digress from the smorgasbord of depressing health and environmental data on this pollution and focus on what this bill will do. It will:

1.  Set national standards that limit the amount of toxic chemicals discharged into our waterways by coal plants and is based upon technological improvements in the industry over the last 30 years.

2. Require coal plants to monitor and report the amount of pollution dumped into our waterways. (We deserve to know this!)

The strongest proposal is common-sense, affordable, and is already being used by some coal plants. This regulation will force coal companies to internalize the cost of pollution, justly relieving that burden from the health of our communities and precious water sources. If you feel strongly about this issue, make your voice heard! It will take a strong force to overcome the corporate interests that are going to fight their hardest for the lowest regulation for what they can dump into our waters.

Things you can do:

1. Make a meeting with your Senator or Representative to let them know you support the strongest regulations

2. Write a Letter to the Editor and submit it to your local newspaper

3. Educate your friends!

More information on the bill can be found here

Actions by the 83rd Texas Legislature to Advance Water Conservation, Curb Water Loss, & Respond to Drought Conditions

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Actions by the 83rd Texas Legislature in the Regular Session to Advance Water Conservation, Curb Water Loss, & Respond to Drought Conditions

The following is a review of actions taken by the 83rd Texas Legislature in the regular session to advance water conservation, curb water loss, and respond to drought conditions. It is not an exhaustive enumeration of all the water-related legislation that might be characterized at least in part as fostering these objectives. For example, it does not discuss all of the water funding legislation passed by the Legislature. The Governor has signed HB 4 and SB 654 but has not acted on the other items as this afternoon (5/28/2013).

Appropriations (SB 1)

The Texas Legislature retained current funding and staffing levels for the Texas Water Development Board’s base Water Conservation Education & Assistance activities (Strategy A.3.1. in the TWDB appropriations) – $1,380,848 each fiscal year – and added the following new funding:

  • $1 million out of General Revenue for FY 2014 for grants to water conservation education groups to be awarded by a competitive process that may require private matching funds
  • $1.8 million for FY 2014 and $1.8 million for FY 2015 out of the Agricultural Water Conservation Fund for the Texas Alliance for Water Conservation Demonstration Project, a partnership project in the Texas Panhandle to enhance agricultural water efficiency to extend the life of the Ogallala Aquifer
  • $1.5 million for FY 2014 and $1.5 million for FY 2015 from General Revenue to be used for grants to groundwater conservation districts for agricultural water conservation (grants will go only to districts which require metering of water use and may only be used to offset half the cost of each meter)

The Texas Legislature provided $407,414 for FY 2014 and $326,474 for FY 2015 from General Revenue to the TWDB as part of its appropriations for Water Resources Planning (Strategy A.2.2) to develop an online tool to consolidate reporting requirements related to the water use survey, annual water loss report, and annual water conservation report and make those reports viewable by the public online.

Legislation – The Texas Legislature passed the following bills and sent them to the Governor:

HB 4 (Ritter, et. al./Fraser) – among its extensive provisions for establishing a new fund for implementation of the state water plan and for restructuring the Texas Water Development Board, HB 4 does the following:

  • Requires the TWDB to undertake to apply not less than 20% of the money disbursed in each five-year period  to support projects, including agricultural irrigation projects, that are designed for water conservation or reuse
  • Requires the TWDB to undertake to apply not less than 10% of the money disbursed in each five-year period to support projects for rural political subdivisions or agricultural water conservation
  • Prohibits the use of state financial assistance for a water project if the applicant has failed to submit or implement a water conservation plan
  • Requires regional water planning groups in their prioritization of projects for state financial assistance to consider at a minimum such factors as the feasibility, viability, sustainability, and cost-effectiveness of a project – factors which should work in favor of conservation projects
  • Requires TWDB in its process for prioritization of projects to receive state financial assistance to consider (among other criteria) the demonstrated or projected effect of the project on water conservation, including preventing the loss of water (taking into consideration whether the applicant has filed a water audit that demonstrates the applicant is accountable with regard to reducing water loss and increasing efficiency in the distribution of water)

HB 857 (Lucio III/Hegar) – requires each retail public water utility with more than 3300 connections to conduct a water audit annually to determine its water loss and to submit that audit to the TWDB [a retail public water utility with 3300 or less connections will continue to be required to conduct and submit a water audit once every five years computing the utility’s system water loss during the preceding year] – the initial annual water audit must be submitted by May 1, 2014

HB 1461 (Aycock/Fraser) – requires each retail public water utility required to file a water audit with the TWDB to notify each of the utility’s customers of the water loss reported in the water audit (TCEQ will adopt rules to implement this requirement, but the notice may be done through the utility’s annual consumer confidence report or on the next bill the customer receives after the water audit is filed)

HB 2615 (Johnson/Fraser) – increases the penalty for failure of a water rights holder to submit an annual water use report to TCEQ [in part because the penalties previously were so low, only about 60% of water rights holders outside watermaster areas reported their annual water use by the deadline] and requires TCEQ to establish a process for submitting these reports electronically through the internet

HB 2781 (Fletcher/Campbell) – makes a number of changes in current law governing the use and oversight of rainwater harvesting systems; for example HB 2781 does the following:

  • Requires a privately owned rainwater harvesting system with a capacity of more than 500 gallons that has an auxiliary water supply to have a specified mechanism for ensuring physical separation between the rainwater system and the auxiliary supply [to prevent any possible contamination]
  • Requires the permitting staff of each county and municipality with a population of 10,000 or more whose work relates directly to permits involving rainwater harvesting to receive appropriate training (provided by TWDB) regarding rainwater harvesting standards

HB 3604 (Burnam, Lucio III/Hegar) – requires an entity to implement its water conservation plan and its drought contingency plan, as applicable, when it is notified that the Governor has declared its respective county or counties as a disaster area based on drought conditions; clarifies the authority of TCEQ to enforce this requirement [previously the law only required the entity to implement either plan, despite the fact that water conservation should be an ongoing activity as contrasted to short-term responses to drought conditions; during the 2011 drought a number of entities in drought disaster areas reportedly did not implement mandatory water use restrictions]

HB 3605 (Burnam, et. al./Hegar) – does the following:

  • Requires a retail public water utility that receives financial assistance from TWDB to use a portion of that assistance – or any additional assistance provided by TWDB – to mitigate the utility’s system water loss if based on its water audit the water loss meets or exceeds a threshold to be established by TWDB rule
  • Requires TWDB in passing on an application for financial assistance from a retail public water utility serving 3300 or more connections to evaluate the utility’s water conservation plan for compliance with TWDB’s best management practices for water conservation and issue a report to the utility detailing the results of that evaluation
  • Requires TWDB not later than January 1 of each odd-numbered year to submit to the Legislature a written summary of the results of the evaluations noted above
  • Requires plans and specifications submitted to TWDB with an application for financial assistance to include a seal by a licensed engineer affirming that the plans and specifications are consistent with and conform to current industry design and construction standards

SB 198 (Watson/Dukes) – prevents a property owners’ association (HOA) from prohibiting or restricting a property owner from using drought-resistant landscaping or water-conserving natural turf but allows an HOA to require the property owner to submit a detailed description of a plan for the installation of such landscaping or turf for review and approval by the HOA to ensure to the extent practicable maximum aesthetic compatibility with other landscaping in the subdivision; the legislation also states that the HOA may not unreasonably deny or withhold approval of the plan or unreasonably determine that the proposed installation is aesthetically incompatible

SB 385 (Carona/Keffer) – authorizes a municipality or a county or a combination thereof to establish and implement a program to provide directly or through a third party financing for a permanent improvement to real property that is intended to decrease water or energy consumption or demand, with the repayment of the financing of a qualified project to be done through an assessment collected with property taxes on the assessed property; sets out the procedures, requirements, and options by which such a program may be established, implemented, and operated by the local government through contracts and other mechanisms

SB 654 (West/Anchia) – specifically grants to municipalities the authority to enforce through a civil action ordinances related to water conservation measures, including watering restrictions [although some municipalities have taken the position that they already had this authority, this legislation makes it clear that they do and gives municipalities more flexibility in enforcing water conservation ordinances since there may be a reluctance to use criminal law in this regard]

SB 700 (Hegar/Kacal, Raney) – does the following:

  • Requires the State Energy Conservation Office (SECO) to develop a template for state agencies and higher education institutions to use in preparing their respective comprehensive energy and water management plan (such a plan is already required)
  • Requires each agency and higher education institution to set percentage goals for reducing its use of water, electricity, gasoline, and natural gas and include those goals in its energy and water management plan
  • Requires that plan to be updated annually (currently updates are required biennially)
  • Requires SECO biennially to report to the Governor and the LBB the state and effectiveness of  management and conservation activities of the agencies and higher education institutions
  • Requires SECO to post that report on its website

This review was compiled by Ken Kramer, Water Resources Chair, Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. For additional information: 512-626-4204 (cell) or kenwkramer@aol.com.

Texas Water Fluoridation Controversy

When you turn on the water faucet in your kitchen to fill up a water bottle, you don’t usually think about the origin of the water you’re about to drink, how it was treated, and what may have been added to it. The only thing you’re really thinking about is how thirsty you are. We all need water, so we’re all used to just drinking whatever water we can get, as long as it looks clean and comes from a home, business, or water bottle. So it’s not surprising that most people have no idea that fluoride is put into their drinking water every day for dental hygienic reasons, not water treatment.

Woman Drinking Glass of Water

                Water fluoridation started in the 1940’s, when tooth decay was a problem and scientists had been researching the differences in natural fluoride concentrations in water sources. What they found was that areas with moderate amounts of fluoride in the water had fewer cases of tooth decay than those with water sources with lower amounts of fluoride. While they also found that excessive amounts of fluoride could cause things like dental fluorosis, communities started adding moderate amounts of fluoride into their drinking water to keep teeth healthy, at the recommendation of several dental associations as well as the FDA.

Today, water fluoridation has stirred some controversy. The side that promotes water fluoridation states that the benefits of fluoridated water completely outweigh the negatives. Fluoridation costs about fifty cents a year per person, which is cheaper than dental visits, and it has been proven to prevent tooth decay, reducing a person’s risk by about 25%. People who oppose community water fluoridation state that the government should not be in control of medicating communities through public resources because it does not allow people to make the choice of whether or not they want to be medicated, especially since the amount of fluoride one should have for dental use differs per person depending on age, etc. They also state that with increased public knowledge of dental hygiene, there is no longer any reason for the public to be given extra amounts of fluoride. Lastly, they state that many countries in Europe and the US have similar amounts of tooth decay, but most countries in Europe do not use fluoridated water, so the true effectiveness may vary.

Here in Texas, around 80% of the population that uses public water drinks water that is fluoridated. Some communities, including places like College Station, Lago Vista, and Alamo Heights, have voted against water fluoridation, and many more have groups that are trying to end fluoridation. Whichever side you stand on for community water fluoridation, water is our most important resource, so continue to be educated about what is in your water and how it affects you.

San Antonio Sets Example for Water Conservation in Texas

Nearly all of the water in San Antonio’s famed River Walk is recycled water. (Image credit: http://www.visitsanantonio.com)

As the world collectively peers into its magic crystal ball (which totally exists), most observers see a future ridden with serious environmental issues that will be difficult to manage – especially if meaningful action isn’t taken immediately. While many of these threats (like those of climate change) are global in nature, the degree to which different parts of the world are affected will vary. Texas’ future, for example, promises to be very difficult due to an increase in drought conditions coupled with a rapidly growing population – factors that will inevitably lead to a decrease in freshwater resources. Indeed, we are already experiencing difficulty in providing ample water resources to satisfy the state’s residential, commercial, and ecological needs – a fact that emphasizes the importance of water conservation, moving forward. Fortunately, San Antonio (the state’s second largest city) has taken on a leadership role in the state by successfully implementing aggressive water conservation measures through its public water utility, San Antonio Water System (SAWS).

Through a variety of incentives, educational initiatives, restrictions, and water recycling measures, the city manages to use roughly the same amount of water that it used in 1984, despite a 67% increase in population.

Much of this success can be attributed to its incentives for large-scale commercial water users, who represent 50% of the city’s water consumption despite being only 10% of the customer base. These incentives, which foot significant portions of the bill for water-saving retrofits, have been popular for businesses in San Antonio since they provide for high post-installation savings that typically allow businesses to get a quick return on their investment. For example, Frito-Lay’s plant in San Antonio undertook a $1.4 million dollar retrofit in 2003, for which it received a nearly $265,000 rebate; the retrofits also save the company roughly $138,000 per year, which means it likely recouped its investment in 2011. Most importantly, the plant’s retrofits have saved 43 million gallons of water per year and have even helped the company increase potato chip production. Other successful commercial water conservation programs include a rebate program for restaurants that has gotten 40% of San Antonio restaurants to lower their water usage, and a hotel rebate program which seeks to minimize the impact of the city’s bustling tourism industry on water resources.

SAWS has also implemented several impressive residential conservation programs like the Plumbers to People program, which provides free repairs to leaky plumbing for low-income San Antonians. Another effective initiative has been their High-Efficiency Toilet Program, which distributes new low-water toilets to customers with wasteful toilets. Both programs are very cost-effective and are praised for their ability to integrate low-income customers into SAWS’ conservation efforts. Most importantly, however, they save over 3 billion gallons of water per year.

Furthermore, much of the water that the city does use is eventually recycled. After being processed at a water treatment plant, it is commonly used for the irrigation of parks and golf courses, in cooling towers, and in industrial processes. Perhaps the most surprising use of recycled water, however, is for the replenishment of San Antonio’s famed River Walk.

Through these programs, San Antonio has made significant progress in reducing per capita water use from a high of 225 gallons per day in the mid-1980s to a low of 136 gallons per day, with a final goal of 116 gallons per day by 2016. Achieving further reductions in water use will become increasingly difficult, however, since opportunities to pick the ‘low-hanging fruit’ of conservation measures will become less abundant. Regardless, with more time to develop (and aided by progress in technology and policy, as well as phase-outs of water-guzzling coal plants), these programs will go a long way in securing water for San Antonio’s future.

Oh, and, it will surely help to have a mayor that describes water conservation as being “part and parcel of being a San Antonian.”

By Diego Atencio