Why is Drought-Hit Dallas Selling Water?

Um ... because someone at City Hall is smart. Dang.

Here are some things I never ever thought I would hear myself saying. In fact, I'm having a hard time spitting it out. But truth is truth. Sometimes even I have to face that.

Of all the people in this country who live in cities where per capita water-consumption is an issue, Dallas residents do better than most.

Yup. Read it and weep. I do. We consume a much lower percentage of the water we get from rainfall than other water-challenged cities.

Jen Sorensen

It's sure not what I was looking for. It doesn't fit my paradigm. And it gets worse. Meaning better. The water supply problems that we do face in the future — you know, too many people, not enough water — are moderate next to what cities like Houston, Denver and Albuquerque can look forward to. Closer to home, we're probably in about twice as good shape as Fort Worth.

This could put me out of business. Luckily, Dallas is still terrible in lots of other aspects of its civic affairs, or I'd just go tie a cement block to my ankle and heave myself into the Trinity River now.

Water? Not so bad.

Let me tell you where I started on this quest. You already know that the city manager of Dallas is imposing all sorts of water rationing on us because of the drought. At the same time, there has been renewed attention to the fact that Dallas Water Utilities sells treated water to 26 suburbs and D/FW International Airport.

In recent weeks I have heard several people ask what seems to me like a terrific question: "Why should we sell our water to the blood-sucking vampire suburbs when we don't have enough of it for ourselves?"

That's my kind of question. I hate vampires.

So, in looking for a little backup for my biases, I called Janice Bezanson, executive director of the Texas Conservation Alliance, who in the past has been an invaluable source of environmental knowledge that I have been able to sort of claim as my own in columns. I asked her, What about these damned vampires?

Bezanson told me something I was not prepared to hear. She said they're not vampires. They're just suburbs. It's not really our water anyway. She said it comes from the sky.

Well. Yes. I can see that. Cities don't actually make water. They just wait for it to rain, and when it does rain they glom onto the water that falls and flows down into the rivers and reservoirs. They take water out of rivers and streams and store it.

One city can't glom onto all the water in a river, because then the cities downriver would die. Somebody has to sort it out. The amount of water that a city can legally glom onto, Bezanson explained, is determined by the state, which assigns each city its share as water rights.

She said the state gave Dallas the amount of glomming rights it did only because the state assumed Dallas had deals to sell some of that water to the suburbs. "Dallas would not have been given permits for as much water if they did not have this additional market," she said.

Furthermore — and this really stuck in my craw — she said selling the water to the suburbs made sense.

"That's a sound economic thing to do for an entity like Dallas Water Utilities," she said. "They supply some additional cities rather than all of them having their own water utilities. It's more economic that way."

She said the cost of building reservoirs and treatment plants is shared by the suburbs through the payments they make to Dallas for water. "This is more just a matter of who's good at doing this and who pays for them to do it."

This is not to say that Bezanson thinks Dallas and its suburbs are doing everything the right way about water. She pointed out we are in the throes of a dreadful drought, one that may spell true disaster for us if it becomes the equal of the one that brought the city low in the 1950s, and yet we continue, in both the city and the suburbs, to engage in hugely wasteful water uses, like watering St. Augustine grass. Lawns are the worst.

"When you put water on your lawn it evaporates into the atmosphere, and it may wind up out over the Gulf or somewhere. It is lost to the system," she says.

"Everything you use in your household goes down the drain and is picked back up and sent on through the sewer system, so if it's not reused locally at least it runs down the river and somebody uses it downstream."

That brings me to another topic I find especially painful at a personal level. A couple years ago, a coalition of investors and public interest groups called Ceres partnered with the global accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP to take up an intriguing question: When the credit rating agencies look at cities to see what rating should be given to their bonds, how much attention do they pay to the risk those cities may face of running out of water?

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Water Testing
Water Testing

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Judd D. Bradbury
Judd D. Bradbury

I think there is a very solid argument for Dallas drawing some hard lines in the resources. The taxpayers of Dallas paid to develop the resources over the last 50 years. The problem is going to be political. There is a lot of money invested in those suburbs and those investment interests are going to make sure they are protected at the state level. For Dallas to have a return on its investment you would need a city leader that understands that this "fair and share" is simply good marketing for "I would like to take the resources that you built with your historic capital". Scott is on the right track but you are going to need a lot of firepower from people, money, or some very good information.


Speaking of droughts and water conservation I wonder how this is going to affect the new Woodall Rogers Park? Also the rage about fracking for gas and the high usage of water (aside from the question of poisonous chemicals) in this process?

The only other thought is that perhaps the city of Dallas should charge the other cities a wee bit higher rate.


Interesting that the writers first inclination was to find something illicit, illegal or illogical. Finding none the article was actually fairly reasoned and informative. Everyone is in the 1% of something.


All I got to say for now is that I thank Dallas very much for the water that it sells to our suburban city at such a cheap rate. I will continue to glow about this until somebody from Dallas takes a giant water hose and blasts my glow into darkness. Then we all can either be one of the 99 percent or one percent.

Water Wiki
Water Wiki

Another good source of info in this direction is a book written by a former state rep. from Dallas called "Whose Water Is It Anyway?"


It belongs to the 1%.

Doesn't everything?