Although Texas is emerging from its historic drought, water experts hope its memory will encourage lawmakers to enact regulatory changes before the next shortage. According to the Houston Chronicle:
Water planners, policy experts and scientists said Monday at the Texas Water Summit that they do not expect lawmakers to address increasing water demands when they convene in January because the most populated areas no longer are in severe drought.
“It was hot for awhile, but we kept our lawns green” in the big cities, like Houston, said Ronald Kaiser, professor of water law and policy at Texas A&M University. “Less than 1 percent of the population was in position to be cut off. It’s the small communities that are most at risk.”
34% severe drought
Still, Kaiser said lawmakers should not waste “a good drought” without regulatory changes. Previous dry spells have prompted the Legislature to build reservoirs, improve long-range planning and set aside some of a river’s flow for nature’s benefit.
The most recent federal data shows 34 percent of Texas in severe drought, down from 94 percent a year ago. The population centers of Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio no longer are in severe drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
In 2011 alone, the state lost 100 cubic kilometers of water, or 70 Lake Travises, because of evaporation, said David Maidment, director of the Center for Research in Water Resources at the University of Texas at Austin.
That, however, was not dry enough for lawmakers to find a way to fund water development beyond asking voters for authority to issue debt through bonds. The state’s water plan calls for a $53 billion investment in more reservoirs, desalination plants and pipelines, among other projects, to avoid shortages during the next 50 years.
“The challenge is to convince ratepayers and politicians that it is worth the cost,” said Robert Mace, deputy executive administrator for water science and conservation at the Texas Water Development Board. “A lot of Texans take it for granted that water comes out of the faucet.”
Mace said Texas is not ready for a repeat of the 1950s drought, the marker for the worst-case dry spell in state history. A recent peer-reviewed study of tree rings, published in the Texas Water Journal, shows that Texas has experienced more severe and longer-lasting droughts over the centuries.