Environment Texas
Abilene Reporter-News

Water conservation in future

A look at the legislation's 'water session'
Matthew Waller

The last 140-day period of lawmakers coming together has been the "water session" in more ways than one.

While many cities around Texas could count the number of months that they had in water reserves, the leaders of the House and Senate and Gov. Rick Perry all stood ready to use the massive holdings of the so-called Rainy Day Fund to pour billions into loans for water projects.

In the end, the decision will remain with voters in the fall whether to take $2 billion from the Rainy Day Fund, the pot of money filled with oil and gas taxes, and put it into a fund where communities and entities can borrow money at low interest rates for projects such as reservoirs, pipelines and desalination plants.

"It absolutely was a water session," Environment Texas Director Luke Metzger said. "For the first time it was ... if not the No. 1, one of the top two issues from the leadership. It had bipartisan support."

Ideally the fund will be able to fund the $27 billion the State Water Plan says should come from the state to secure water for the next 50 years.

That was not, however, the only water legislation. The governor has signed legislation into law that makes conservation a cornerstone of the Texas project.

"We applaud Gov. Perry for signing this package of water conservation bills. They will help cut water waste and provide new tools for Texans to conserve water," Metzger said in a statement earlier this month.

Senate Bill 198 from Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, was among the bills, and the new law will keep homeowners associations from preventing members from putting in xeriscaping or drought-appropriate landscaping.

"Residential lawns planted with common lawn grasses like St. Augustine and Kentucky bluegrass require large amounts of water to grow in the arid regions of Texas ? far in excess of what native plants would require," Metzger said in his statement.

He pointed to a report from the Environment Texas Research and Policy Center that states increasing drought-tolerant plants in landscaping over traditional lawn grasses could save 14 billion gallons of water by 2020, the equivalent of what 240,000 Texans use in a year.

Three other conservation-related bills include House Bill 857 from Rep. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, which would require annual water loss audits; HB1461 from Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, requiring customer notification of audit results; and HB 3605 from Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, requiring that utilities use a portion of state resources for leak repairs.

According to the Environment Texas release: "Broken water mains leak more than 2 percent of the water provided in municipal systems. In the summer of 2011, the city of Houston lost as much as 25 percent of its water to leaks. Repairing leaking municipal water mains would end the waste of at least 20 billion gallons of water annually."

The statewide water plan states that about 34 percent of the water necessary for Texas' needs over the next 50 years are set to come from conservation and reuse.

The new fund that would get money from the Rainy Day Fund is set up so that 20 percent of the money must go toward conservation and reuse projects, and another 10 percent for agricultural water projects. The agricultural projects also could be oriented toward conservation.

"They don't solve all our problems," Metzger said of the water conservation effort. "But they go a long way in moving Texas to a sustainable path."


The state is seeing a continued boom in South Texas and the possibility of a massive shale formation that reaches into many Big Country counties, the Cline Shale.

Such regions are opened up because of the technique of hydraulic fracturing, which pressurizes water mixed with chemicals into the ground and fractures the rock, opening previously untapped resources.

This, combined with drilling horizontally in a formation to get to more surface area, has revolutionized the industry and has put the United States on a path toward energy independence by 2035, according to a report from the International Energy Agency.

Fracking wells, however, can require millions of gallons of water per well.

Oil and gas defenders point out that fracking doesn't use nearly as much water as agriculture, but that hasn't abated concerns about the process in watersensitive areas around Texas.

Enter the Texas Water Recycling Association, which is primarily composed of members who work in the business of recycling fracking water.

"From our perspective we had a great session," said Chris Hosek, the vice president of governmental affairs for the association.

One bill, passed and signed, that it supported was HB 2767 from Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, which clarifies who is liable for what in the exchange of water. Even before the session, the Texas Railroad Commission, which oversees the oil and gas industry, had introduced regulations to help the industry with permitting, Hosek said.

"Looking at the state water plan, water recycling will have to be in future conversations," Hosek said.

The group also supported a bill from Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, HB 2133, that would have added policy strategy to the state's water code to use new technologies to reuse water for purposes other than drinking water. That bill didn't pass.


Rep. Todd Hunter, RCorpus Christi, put forward House Concurrent Resolution 59 along with Reps. Abel Herrero, D-Robstown, and J.M. Lozano, R-Kings- ville, also coastal representatives.

"Water desalination, already common in the Caribbean, the Middle East and elsewhere, is worth exploring as the state strives to meet future water needs of citizens, agriculture and industry," the resolution states.

The bill asks that the lieutenant governor and House speaker create a joint interim committee to study water desalination.

Originally, the bill concerned the study of desalination only for the coast, but it was broadened to include the rest of Texas.

Work on desalination has been occurring for a while, said Jorge Arroyo, the Texas Water Development Board director of Innovative Water Technologies.

Texas has 45 desalination projects throughout the state, he said. The state has about 2.7 billion acrefeet of brackish groundwater that could be tapped, he said. One acre-foot of water is about 326,000 gallons of water